There’s One Sure Way to Fix the Opioid Crisis

Officials nationwide lastly seem like tackling America’s opioid disaster. Last week, President Trump declared the epidemic a public well being emergency, which can give states extra flexibility in responding.

A invoice that might restrict preliminary opioid prescriptions to at least one week is earlier than the Florida state legislature. Maryland is making it harder to prescribe opioids, and Arizona is accumulating information on the scope of the issue.

These efforts are commendable. But they’re unlikely to deliver an finish to the disaster as a result of they fail to handle one of many opioid epidemic’s root causes — continual ache. Fortunately, there are many new methods to deal with sufferers affected by continual ache. It’s time to embrace them.

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More than 100 million Americans undergo from continual ache. The situation prices our nation $635 billion yearly in misplaced productiveness and medical bills.

GettyImages-517243208 NORWICH, CT – MARCH 23: Oxycodone ache tablets prescribed for a affected person with continual ache lie on show on March 23, 2016 in Norwich, CT. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), introduced tips for docs to scale back the quantity of opioid painkillers prescribed, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that almost all new heroin addicts first grew to become hooked on prescription ache remedy earlier than graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. John Moore/Getty

Over the final 20 years, opioids have emerged because the default long-term remedy for continual ache, largely as a result of there was little incentive to contemplate alternate options. Every Medicare plan, as an illustration, covers widespread opioids and doesn’t require prior approval. Physicians can simply write a prescription and supply their sufferers with fast reduction.

But opioids aren’t indicated for all continual ache issues. One complete report from specialists at six U.S. universities discovered that proof of the long-term advantages of opioids is “scant” and that many opioid customers “continue to have moderate to severe pain and diminished quality of life.”

It’s no marvel that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that opioids solely be used for 3 days.

Yet prescription charges for opioids have skyrocketed, and the general prevalence of continual ache within the United States has stayed roughly the identical.

Alternative technique of treating continual ache may break this stalemate.

Take “interventional” ache therapies. These non-surgical procedures goal the elements of the physique that generate continual ache — and thus may remove sufferers’ want for opioids. Popular interventional therapies embrace the appliance of electrical currents to nerve fibers; the injection of steroids or anesthetic into problematic joints, tissue, and nerves; or remedy with an electrical spinal-cord stimulator.

Unlike opioids, these procedures are confirmed to offer long-term reduction. In one research, three-quarters of sufferers who underwent a process that stimulated a particular a part of the spinal column reported vital enhancements of their stage of leg ache over the course of a yr.

Or take into account one other medical research, of a tool manufactured by Abbott* that stimulates the realm of the mind that controls ache indicators with electrical pulses delivered through the spinal twine. Chronic ache sufferers handled with the system noticed their stage of opioid utilization stabilize and even lower.

Doctors typically draw back from approaches like these due to strain from insurers. Interventional therapies will be dearer than tablets initially, even when they’re simpler in the long term. So well being plans usually discourage their use, sometimes by clbadifying them as “experimental” and subsequently offering little or no reimbursement. Some insurers even require docs to first administer the favored opioid oxycodone earlier than contemplating an interventional process.

That’s the incorrect method. The solely strategy to clear up the nation’s opioid disaster is to deal with continual ache successfully. By embracing interventional therapies, docs can just do that.

Peter Staats is chief medical officer of National Spine and Pain Centers, chief medical officer of Electricore, previous president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, and previous president of the North American Neuromodulation Society.

*Disclosure: Staats has acquired funding from Abbott.

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