Shocking New Truths about Opioid Pain Medications and What You Can Do

By Dr. Scott Rosenthal

More than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed each day in the United States. (1) Nearly 50 percent of these prescriptions are made in primary care physician offices. (2) Yes, these pain killers can be invaluable in certain cases and have a place in the medical tool box. But, they are killing far more than pain and now have outpaced automobile accidents as a cause of death.

Opioids are prescription medications. Using their generic names, you can identify them as fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine and oxycodone. In 2013, 16,235 Americans were killed by opioid pharmaceutical overdose. Prescription opioid abuse cost roughly $55.7 billion in 2007. (3) The cost of the suffering experienced by victims and their families is uncalculatable.

Opioids are the most common treatment in medicine for low back pain. (4) They are prescribed to roughly 50 percent of back pain sufferers. Researchers attending the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conference on “The Role of Opioids in the Treatment of Chronic Pain” believe that the use of opioids for low back pain should be reconsidered. This recommendation is based on the following, as stated in the medical journal, The Back Letter:

  • “There is no evidence that opioids are effective for long-term treatment of chronic pain”
  • “Opioid therapy is causing grave harm to patients and to society”
  • “Opioids are impeding the effective treatment of low back pain” (5)

Chiropractic care – a highly effective, evidence-based approach for back pain – can prevent the need for a prescription. This recognition is gaining greater popularity as the medical community begins to see the value in chiropractic care that our patients have been enjoying for over a century. This has never been as evident as with the 2017 publication of the American College of Physicians (ACP) guidelines for treating low back pain in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine.

The new ACP recommendations, based on the scientific evidence, encourage physicians and patients to seek NON-DRUG care such as that found commonly in chiropractic offices. According to the ACP president, Nitin S. Damle, MD, “Physicians should avoid prescribing unnecessary tests and costly and potentially harmful drugs, especially narcotics, for these patients.” The ACP guideline list includes spinal adjustments (“manipulation”), massage, low level laser therapy, exercise, yoga and stress reduction techniques. (6)

This drug-free approach brings welcome relief without the potential harm caused by opioid prescription use. Groundbreaking new research published this year (3/2018) in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at about 12,000 New Hampshire patients with a diagnosis of back pain. In a country that is desperately looking for any means possible to combat the opioid crisis, the findings were astonishing:

  • “Among New Hampshire adults with office visits for noncancer low-back pain, the adjusted likelihood of filling a prescription for an opioid analgesic was 55% lower for recipients of services provided by doctors of chiropractic compared with nonrecipients.” (7)

Nothing has come close to being able to drop the opioid usage rate by such a high percentage as chiropractic care. So, why are so many patients still using opioids instead of chiropractic care?

Unfortunately, barriers still exist that prevent pain sufferers from seeing a doctor of chiropractic. Despite the many studies published in recent years, medical providers often do not understand (or refuse to recognize) the effective role that chiropractic can play and therefore overly rely on their prescription pads.  Fortunately for the patient who is seeking care from a doctor of chiropractic, most can do so directly without needing a referral and it will be covered by insurance (which includes Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, private, state, county and city plans, automobile and worker’s compensation). Even if you don’t have insurance, chiropractic is quite affordable and accessible.

Times are slowly changing, but in my opinion, it’s still too slow as the opioid crisis rages on. We are seeing new laws introduced and passed and the popularity of chiropractic care is growing quicker than ever since its founding in 1895. It is my hope that we will see more medical professionals break from their prescribing traditions and learn more about chiropractic.

If you or a loved one is offered an opioid prescription, recognize your options. Consider the evidence, weigh the risks and make an informed decision. The healing hands of a chiropractor can provide natural relief as demonstrated by thousands of happy patients and a multitude of scientific research. Best of all, your risk of an opioid addiction or overdose is ZERO when you can avoid using them in the first place.

  1. https:// www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/Factsheet-opioids-061516. pdf accessed April 17, 2017.
  2. Med Care 2013;51:870–878
  3. www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/overdose/facts.html
  4. Univ. Texas Health Science Center
  5. BackLetter: January 2015 - Volume 30 - Issue 1 - p 4
  6. Annals of Internal Medicine, 14 FEBRUARY 2017
  7. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2018, pp. 1–5