The Opioid Crisis and Life After Opioids for the Chronic Pain Patient

The escalating opioid crisis has rightfully created significant concern about overprescribing of opioid pain medications. However, changes in government policies, including new prescribing guidelines and stepped up law enforcement actions, have had a very negative effect on chronic pain patients who have become dependent on opioids to manage their pain. Many physicians treating these patients are drastically reducing or abruptly discontinuing their opioid medication without offering any other treatment for pain. These patients are reporting terrible withdrawal symptoms, increased pain, reduced functioning and poorer quality of life. Some are turning to street drugs and some are committing suicide.

Another group of pain patients is thriving after reducing or discontinuing opioid use. These are patients who voluntarily slowly tapered off their medication while introducing alternative pain treatments, including medical marijuana, CBD oil, kratom, intensive nutritional interventions, mind/body therapies and more.

Medical marijuana, CBD oil and kratom (a Southeast Asian herb) are proving especially useful for patients who want to reduce or discontinue opioid use. All three have very potent analgesic effects, often more potent than opioids, and also help to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Other alternative treatments get at the root of chronic pain. Nutritional deficiencies, especially of Vitamin D, magnesium and Omega 3 fatty acids, can cause chronic pain. Toxic food additives such as aspartame and MSG and food sensitivities to gluten and other ingredients can also play a role in creating chronic pain. Taking appropriate nutritional supplements, avoiding processed food and eating a diet rich in phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce pain.

Another largely ignored factor in addressing chronic pain is the mind/body relationship. The body reacts to chronic stress and unresolved trauma by maintaining a physiological state that creates pain by increasing muscle tension, reducing blood flow to extremities, and suppressing digestion, immune response, maintenance and healing. Cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation training, biofeedback, and energy psychology techniques are just a few of the mind/body approaches that can be helpful.

Muscle stiffness, spasm, weakness and imbalances are frequent pain generators that often get ignored. Back, neck and sciatic pain often get blamed on disc abnormalities when the real cause lies in the muscles. Physical therapy, exercise programs, massage and acupuncture can address these issues.

There are also therapies that stimulate and speed up tissue healing, including low level laser therapy (LLLT) and pulsed electromagnetic frequency therapy (PEMF). These therapies quickly and safely decrease inflammation and reduce pain. When pain patients, opioid dependent or not, utilize one or more of these alternative pain therapies, they can significantly reduce or eliminate their reliance on pharmaceuticals. Patients who have done this find that their quality of life and ability to function improve significantly. The biggest obstacle to achieving better pain care is lack of awareness of patients and health care providers about the power of alternative approaches to relieve pain. The second biggest obstacle is lack of affordability due to lack of insurance coverage.

Educating patients and health care providers and requiring insurance companies to pay for alternative pain treatments can help to contain and reverse the opioid crisis while improving the lives of pain patients significantly.

A new online resource for chronic pain patients and providers, the Alternative Pain Treatment Directory, is a good place to start learning about and advocating for alternative pain therapies. It includes informative articles, inspiring healing stories, provider and product listings and opportunities for advocacy to promote access to alternative treatments. It’s a good place to start for those looking for safer and more effective pain treatments.

Contributed by Cindy Perlin

Cindy Perlin is a licensed clinical social worker, certified biofeedback practitioner, chronic pain survivor, the author of The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free and the creator of the online Alternative Pain Treatment Directory.

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