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Why Painkiller Restrictions Matter: 60% of Opiate Overdose Deaths Are Chronic Pain Patients

Close photo of prescription bottle for Hydrocodone tablets and pills on wooden table for opioid epidemic illustration

The debate between those who are living with chronic pain and the medical establishment has grown more heated with every new regulation passed limiting access to addictive painkillers. Many who are living with a legitimate need to manage intense pain are finding that they are met with suspicion by many doctors who believe they are only “pill seeking” or with a hard “no” due to a doctor’s fear of being prosecuted as someone who “over-prescribes.”

While it is true that many doctors are deeply concerned about maintaining their licenses and thus work hard to avoid the appearance of impropriety, there are also many people who claim chronic pain in order to get addictive painkillers, and others who are living with chronic pain and addicted to the medications that they originally sought to find relief.

There is no simple solution to the problem, especially one that might fit all patients and doctor combinations in all situations. There are, however, a few very important things to remember as patients and providers go forward in attempting to find a healthy way to manage chronic pain.

  • Chronic pain patients are dying of overdose. The opiate epidemic is taking tens of thousands of lives every year, and more than 60 percent of that number are people who are living with chronic pain and had in the year prior to their death been treating the problem with painkillers, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Whether or not those patients were indeed living with chronic pain that would benefit from the use of painkillers, the numbers demonstrate why doctors are trying to ensure that they are treating people who are living with chronic pain safely and effectively.
  • There are holistic chronic pain management options. With a combination of healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, improved sleep, occupational therapy, and more, many chronic pain patients will find that the “need” for painkillers is mitigated, perhaps entirely. Though this is far from the easiest path, requires work and persistence, and will not work for everyone, many doctors feel that it is well worth it to put in the work and try to avoid the deadly drugs if at all possible.
  • It is debated whether or not painkillers are actually an effective treatment for chronic pain. Many people report that painkillers do nothing to relieve their pain. Instead, they say that the drugs make them not care that they are in pain, which is certainly not the same thing. Many studies show that for many types of pain, there is little support for the use of painkillers. However, there is evidence to suggest that many doctors have, in the past, been doing what they can with the resources they have, even if there is little medical value and a great deal of risk.
  • Medical professionals are not “out to get” those who seek treatment for chronic pain. Rather, most medical professionals take the view that they want to continue treating patients for as long as possible and to the best of their ability. They are concerned about the high number of court cases that involve doctors who use their clinics as a way to, essentially, divert addictive drugs to the black market, and they do not want to be lumped in with this mercenary, unethical crowd. Many doctors will require that patients seeking help for pain start with a very short, low-dose prescription and ask that they do the work to find the best possible method, or methods, of treatment – essentially, to partner with them in finding the best course of care. Though this may not be the quickest path to pain relief, it demonstrates respect for the patient and not a combative stance against all people living with chronic pain.

Chronic Pain and Addiction

For many people living with both chronic pain and addiction, the road to recovery can feel nonexistent. There are, however, ways to learn how to stop using substances safely and start making choices that prioritize healthy living.

If your loved one is living with chronic pain and substance abuse, are you ready to help them connect with treatment options that will get them back on track in 2018?

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