The Dangers of Opioids

In 2014 the American Medical Association developed a task force specifically designed to reduce the overuse and abuse of opioid medications for the treatment of pain.  There is significant concern among healthcare providers as in that same year more Americans died from opioid overdose than in motor vehicle accidents. With the multitude of options available to treat pain and musculoskeletal conditions, the use of opioids and all medications that treat pain needs serious reconsideration.

When a patient receives medical treatment for back pain or injury, medications such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen, muscle relaxants and  opioids can are commonly prescribed. As with all medications, there are particular risks with opioids. Some risks include overdose, respiratory depression, physical dependence and sedation, just to name a few. Although controversial, some research suggests high doses of opioids can in fact cause more pain. When taken in moderation and, as prescribed, these medications may be effective in reducing pain but often do not address the source of the actual problem nor provide any sort of rehabilitation or correction for the actual condition

Additionally, when taking opioids to manage chronic pain, the majority of patients rapidly develop tolerance. When this happens, patients often find themselves on escalating doses of opioids to achieve the same relief. Soon the side effects become all too common. Despite experiencing side effects, many patients are no closer to managing their pain. In fact, research has failed to provide conclusive evidence that chronic opioid therapy improves either function or quality of life. This is compounded by the fact that so many people are overdosing on opioids while pursuing a hopeless goal of eliminating their pain.

The use of NSAIDs and acetaminophen are also not without risk.  An overdose of these medications can result in serious side effects, such as stomach bleeding, ulcers, liver damage and even death, according to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).  In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, "It has been estimated conservatively that 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur among patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis every year in the United States. This figure is similar to the number of deaths from the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and considerably greater than the number of deaths from multiple myeloma, asthma, cervical cancer, or Hodgkin's disease. If deaths from gastrointestinal toxic effects from NSAIDs were tabulated separately in the National Vital Statistics reports, these effects would constitute the 15th most common cause of death in the United States. Yet these toxic effects remain mainly a "silent epidemic," with many physicians and most patients unaware of the magnitude of the problem. Furthermore the mortality statistics do not include deaths ascribed to the use of over-the-counter NSAIDS."

So what are the alternatives to these dangerous medications such as opioids, NSAIDs or acetaminophen?  Spinal manipulation by a Doctor of Chiropractic has been demonstrated to be both safe and effective at relieving back pain as well returning patients to work and activities of daily living.  In study done by the University of Washington, published in Spine Magazine (2008) workers whose first health care visit for injury was to a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) had substantially better outcomes with significantly less disability and no risk of opioid addiction.  Comprehensive chiropractic care also includes rehabilitative exercise, soft tissue mobilization and instruction on activities of daily living which provides for earlier return to work and with better long-term outcomes.

For more information on chiropractic care, nutraceutical pain relievers, rehabilitative exercise and acupuncture call Northwest Wellness in Federal Way, WA at 253-927-0660