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How can we curb opioid abuse in America? To answer this question, we need to find out why people use opioids in the first place. One reason is that they are easily accessible. A family member could have some that a young adult could reach and start taking them. Another possibility is that a user was prescribed an opioid to treat some type of chronic pain. As for how the crisis came about, we can begin by saying opioids are overprescribed. For example, Medicare lacks any type of approval process before doctors prescribe opioid medications. As long as a patient has a valid prescription, they can easily obtain these dangerous drugs. It has been proven that addictive prescription opioids cause more harm than good in treating chronic pain. Effectively treating chronic pain by alternative methods is the key to ending the opioid crisis in America.
Alternative Treatment Methods
According to Peter Staats, alternative methods of treating chronic pain include, “the application of electric currents to nerve fibers; the injection of steroids or anesthetic into problematic joints, tissue, and nerves; or treatment with an electric spinal-cord stimulator (Staats 2017).” These treatments have been shown to provide sustained pain relief without the risk of addicting drugs. Lowering the number of opioids prescribed will in turn, help reduce the number of patients who become addicted. Research has shown that, “Three-quarters of patients who underwent a procedure that stimulated a specific part of the spinal column reported significant improvements in their level of leg pain over the course of a year (Staats 2017).” That is a significant improvement. “Or consider another clinical study, of a device manufactured by Abbott* that stimulates the area of the brain that controls pain signals with electrical pulses delivered via the spinal cord. Chronic pain patients treated with the device saw their level of opioid usage stabilize or even decrease (Staats 2017).” With these types of results, why are these treatments not more widely used? In part because they are not considered traditional medicine and health insurers are skeptical and try to sway doctors and other medical providers from non-traditional treatments. For a practical example, we can look at back pain- one of the most common types of chronic pain.
Lower back pain or, “LBP is referred to as persistent when symptoms endure longer than 4-6 weeks and as chronic when pain persists beyond 12 weeks (Veizi and Hayek 2014).” Options for treating LBP, other than prescribing opioid medications, can include nerve blocks or epidural injections. These injections are done in a series of three, over a period of about six months. Nerve block injection treatment can also help provideers determine a detailed medical picture and a best treatment plan. Treatment using an electric spinal-cord stimulator or intradiscal electrothermal therapy has been show effective, but is is considered a more drastic treatment than the nerve blocks described above. For this treatment, a small electronic device is implanted below the skin as low as possible to allow the skin to heal around it mostly flat. Then the device emits a small electrical charge stimulating muscles in the back. In summary, one or all of the above treatment options can greatly reduce the number of opioids prescribed and therefore lower the number of citizens dependent upon them.
Opposition to Alternative Treatments
Education on the dangers of using opioids in the formative teenage years can help reduce adult drug dependency. While middle-aged white men are the most common overdose victims in Minnesota, we shouldn’t let it get to that point to start treating addiction. Children in their mid and late teens are the most likely to start experimenting with various drugs, prescription or otherwise. “Dr. Lee explained that drug use is too often overlooked, or dismissed as developmentally appropriate experimentation (Steiner 2016).” Just because experimentation with drugs is more accepted during say, during high school, doesn’t mean it’s a healthy behavior. “Substance-use disorders are developmental disorders. That’s not up for debate. People develop substance-use disorders at all ages, but if you really look at the patterns of addiction, more than likely those patterns start in adolescence and young adulthood (Steiner 2016).”
One reason why we should choose education over alternative therapies or opioids themselves is that if people don’t know the dangers, they are going to keep using or abusing opioids.
Early education about the dangers of opioids can help keep teenagers and young adults from experimenting with these dangerous drugs to start with.
Treating recurring pain with methods other than drugs is essential to getting a handle on the current opioid crisis. Alternative treatments have been shown to reduce chronic pain as effectively as opioids without the risk of addiction.ReferencesStaats, P. (2017, Nov 4). There’s One Sure Way to Fix the Opioid Crisis.
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