Minnesota Researching Opioid Alternatives

opioid abuse alternativesEven if you’re not a chronic pain sufferer, you’ve probably heard about the “opioid crisis” here in America. Overdoses and accidental deaths from pain medications have skyrocketed in recent years, and things are only getting more divisive as we try to put an end to overdoses. There are too many competing interests working against one another. For example:

  • You have a government officials who are supported by money from big pharma.
  • You have big pharma, who is making a lot of money through the increase in prescription medications.
  • You have some overworked doctors who jump right to pain pills instead of taking more time to find solutions.
  • You have some chronic pain patients who take the idea of opioid regulation as a personal offense.

That’s simply too many interests pulling in too many directions, and chronic pain patients are suffering because of it. However, Minnesota has recently taken some tangible steps to look for alternatives to opioids.

Opioid Alternatives

Earlier this month, leading medical minds met in St. Paul to talk about some alternatives to pain management to help combat the opioid epidemic. They discussed a range of possibilities, including such options as:

  • Electrotherapy
  • Radio-frequency ablation
  • Cryogenics
  • Implantable spinal cord stimulators
  • Epidural injections
  • Medical gadgetry
  • Chemical compisitions
  • Physical therapy techniques

The goal of the meeting was to help lawmakers understand that they have the ability to influence how research funding can be allocated for some of these alternatives, and that the future of these pain management techniques are worth exploring.

Dr. Clarence Shannon, an anesthesiologist who works in the University of Minnesota Pain Clinic in Minneapolis, spoke about the summit and how it’s important to test out potential treatment options before jumping to opioids.

“It’s a stair-step approach that I like to use: nonsteroidals, anti-epileptics or neuropathic medications. We’ll try radio-frequency ablation if we can. We’ll do nerve blocks. And then we’ll move up to the things like the implantable devices,” Shannon said.

These alternatives aren’t perfect solutions, and while they do have some drawbacks, the downsides are much less threatening to a patient’s health than the negative consequences of opioids. Medical devices may cost more, may be more prone to malfunction and may require battery changes, but those downsides are worth it if they can protect us against opioid abuse and overdose.

A Good Start

The pain management summit was a good start, but we need to also focus on getting everybody on the same page. We need to the government to look at the bottom line in terms of lives saved and not dollars earned. We need to take the burden off doctors so they don’t feel the need to fall back on opioid prescriptions without first exhausting some other options. We need chronic pain patients to realize that searching for alternatives does not mean the government is going to come and take away their prescriptions that they are using responsibly to manage their pain.

We need to work together to find a solution, or we can’t expect anything to change. Hopefully Minnesota can be at the forefront of that change.

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Thomas Cohn, MD

Interventional pain doctor helping Minnesotans manage back, neck, foot, and other pain. Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with additional board-certification in pain management from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM).
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