Why Chronic Pain Patients Feel Targeted By Opioid Crackdowns

pain pill overdoseAs opioid overdoses continue to rise in the US, the government, lawmakers and medical personnel are all trying to figure out the best way to reduce these unnecessary deaths. Obviously restricting access to opioids would reduce the number of people who can get their hands on them, and in turn reduce overdose deaths, but it would also unfairly target people who need the pills. People like those suffering from chronic pain. So it’s understandable to see why when lawmakers propose strict rules for who can access these medications that chronic pain sufferers feel like they are being targeted and singled out.

It’s a tough balance to strike, and unfortunately it seems that as a nation we are more focused on what is easy and cheap instead of what will really address the root problem. Putting a band-aid over a large gash might stop some bleeding, but the wound won’t close correctly without stitches. Simply restricting access opioids and painkillers might stop some abusers from getting the pills, but it won’t solve the whole problem. We need to put some stitches in place.

Solving The Opioid Crisis

We’re not going to sit here and pretend we have all the answers for solving the problem of opioid addiction and overdose, but like we said above, simply restricting access is not going to solve the problem, and many innocent people who rely on those medications may no longer be able to access them. Instead, here are some steps that will help address the root problem.

1. Doctor Education – The vast majority of doctors understand that opioids do not address the root problem, but sometimes they are confused by a diagnosis or have seen other treatments fail and they fall back on them. Other doctors cut corners and prescribe pills freely and dangerously. We need to provide better understanding at the top level of how these drugs should be used, how to spot signs of abuse and how to ensure patients are safely taking their medications so that overdoses don’t occur.

2. Systemic Pressure – This problem will be harder to solve, but in many cases doctors are told to see as many patients as possible. If a doctor is feeling overwhelmed or rushed to see a number of patients, they can sometimes fall back on easy solutions like opioids. Doctors need to take their time with each and every patient and ensure they are giving them the best care possible. It’s possible the best care will involve opioids, but it should also involve therapy, exercise and regular abuse checks.

3. Patient Education – Patients also lack understanding of opioids and their abuse potential. Opioids are not a magic pill that will cure your pain, but they can provide temporary relief so other rehab techniques like exercise, swimming or physical therapy are more bearable. Opioids are a passive treatment, and they need to be paired with an active treatment option for best results. Patients also need to learn the warning signs of abuse for themselves and for loved ones who may have access to their pills.

4. Pill Technology – Medical researchers are looking into new abuse-deterrent opioids. They are creating pills that can’t be crushed or that become gooey if a user tries to extract the solution for injection. Other pills come in an extended release form and can’t be manipulated to give an elevated or intense high. More research into abuse deterrent options could prove useful.

Simply saying we need to restrict access to opioids will not solve the problem, and many chronic pain sufferers will be affected instead of those who are actually abusing the pills. That’s why so many patients feel targeted by these proposals. It won’t be easy to reverse this trend, but if we put in the time and money, it can be done.

Pain Care – When Correlation Doesn’t Equal Causation

Opioid Abuse Smoking StudyIt seems that there are new articles being published almost every day on the dangers of opioid pain medications. Unfortunately a lot of the studies are not very enlightening. Worse yet, some are just sensational, dumb correlations without causation.

For instance, saying obesity is correlated to eating is a great example of poor research. If you eat, of course could run the risk of being obese, but if you do not eat you could die, so obviously these findings are not very meaningful.

The latest was an article stating that a third of all adults in the United States in the last year received a prescription of opioid medication, and this is larger than the number of people who smoke cigarettesThe reason this is absolutely meaningless is this number has no real meaning. If you add up all the prescriptions for opioids written in one year and divide by the adult population, this is very likely.

Another interpretation would be that 1 in 3 people had a serious medical issue in the last year and were prescribed pain medication. Most people who have been in the hospital or emergency room for a surgery or injury may get a short-term prescription for pain medications. This is one of the very legitimate uses of these drugs, and should not be demonized. Treating acute pain aggressively at the outset has been shown to reduce the incidence of chronic pain problems. Several days of pain medications after a surgery or serious injury is appropriate but it should not be an ongoing use once the acute episode has healed.

Making Bad Connections

A third of the world population also suffers from chronic pain. A small percentage of those people are helped only by opioid medication and use these appropriately to maintain function and ability. There are many who use these medications extremely sparingly and thus continue to be highly productive in society since then they can control their symptoms. These people are dependent on these medications, they are not addicted, and oftentimes other conservative treatments have failed them. If there were better legal treatments available, many of these people would never use opioids.

Taking a prescription pain medication for a legitimate medical problem is not a significant issue or statistic. Smoking cigarettes for most is a daily addiction, affecting 25 percent of adults. It is voluntary, it causes multiple health problems, and has a huge cost to society. Comparing pain medication use to smoking is a useless correlation with no meaning.