What Leadership Can Do to Help Address the Painkiller Problem

The opioid crisis affecting America is mostly viewed as having one cause – pain addiction. In truth, they are two separate causes – pain and addiction. With over 2.1 million Americans suffering from substance abuse, it’s time we change the dialogue and address both issues.

Alternative Pain Management

Opioids aren’t the only solution for pain. Clinicians need to make their patients aware of, and encourage them to try alternatives. Options include:

  • Acupuncture – Needles, heat, and pressure are applied to the skin to help relieve ailments. This practice has been recognized as an effective treatment against chronic back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headaches, and shoulder pain.
  • Massage – The rubbing and kneading of muscles and joints to relieve tension or pain. Studies have proven weekly massage sessions are effective against lower back pain, headaches, arthritis knee pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, and cancer pain to varying degrees.
  • Yoga – A practice of controlled breath, meditation and stretching. Studies have found that weekly yoga sessions have helped those with lower back pain increase mobility. Additionally, yoga has helped those with fibromyalgia osteoporosis related curvature of the spine increase their mobility.
  • Tai-Chi – The fluid movement through a series of motions. Research shows tai chi can benefit those with tension headaches, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.

Doctors and Healthcare companies can help stop addiction before it starts.

Physicians must educate themselves on “opioid failure” and review their patients – removing those who will not benefit from the use of opioid prescriptions as a long-term pain solution. With over 80% of Americans having seen a medical professional in 2015, clinicians are the front line of defense against opioid abuse.

Some conditions you can look at to help define opioid failure are:

  • Does the patient suffer serious adverse effects?
  • Does the patient show significant signs of misuse? (Drug abuse, illegal activities, hoarding, and/or frequent emergency room visits)
  • Does long-term use help in achieving treatment goals?

Ask these questions each time you prescribe opioids, and if opioids are not in the best interest of the patient, don’t prescribe it.

In 2012, physicians wrote enough prescriptions to provide every American adult with their own bottle of opioids. Reviewing a patient’s prescription history could also help stop overuse/abuse. If available in your state, make use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to curb “doctor shopping” –  the act of a patient moving from provider to provider to obtain their prescription(s) of choice.

Physicians can help their patients realize when there is a problem, and refer them to seek appropriate treatment and set recovery goals.

Insurance companies can also help by extending covered pain management options to include a multifaceted approach that is open to specialized care programs such as acupuncture or chiropractic care, even if it’s not in Medicaid’s fee schedule. Other possible steps that can be taken include:

  • Base pharmacy guidelines and opioid prescriptions around the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.
  • Monitor physician’s writing prescriptions, and pinpoint those that are doing so in large quantities.
  • Provide education on the use of opioids and its effects.
  • Combine physical treatments with mental and abuse services in plans.

Insurers need to reach out to patients, especially those that may not be interested in recovery. Destigmatize addiction and let them know there is help, that they have other options available to them. Show them the “care” side of healthcare. Provide them with the knowledge that the recovery is attainable.