At this point, everyone has heard about the opioid crisis – from the harrowing statistics indicating just how many have wound up addicted or dead, to the federal government’s efforts to limit patient access to the narcotic drug.
For people who have thus far successfully managed their pain and improved their quality of life thanks to opioid-based treatment, they may suddenly face a dramatic reduction in the availability of these medications. This includes patients suffering from chronic, intractable pain as well as cancer patients or end-of-life situations in which loved ones are seeking palliative care for a dying patient. What are they to do now?
The Opioid Epidemic
The reason for government regulations surrounding opioids is to try to curb the number of overdoses and deaths from the drug. But these laws are made without examining exactly who is being helped and harmed by these medications – and which drugs are being used for what purposes. People with crippling pain from a car accident, botched back surgery, or other causes are now denied access to opioids because too many young people looking to get high have overdosed and died. Whether these deaths are attributed to illegal street drugs like heroin and fentanyl or prescription painkillers like oxycodone, they are all lumped together as opioid-related deaths.
In a similar type of governmental crackdown in the 1950s, the state of New York outlawed tattooing as a result of the abuse of heroin. That’s because illegal heroin use involved needle sharing, which resulted in a drastic rise in hepatitis cases in the city. Thus, activities in which needles penetrated the skin were outlawed, like tattoo art. This law did not put a dent in the heroin epidemic, but it did force tattooing to go underground.
The lesson here is that there are not any one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to pain medications that can do both good and harm.
Various governmental agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have enacted policies designed to reduce the number of opioid overdoses.
These efforts began by introducing limits for prescriptions of opioid pills, which largely affects the very people who need the drugs the most – such as patients with end-stage cancer or other diseases. How does limiting the number of pills this group receives help curb the number of people dying from heroin overdoses?
The sad truth is that patients suffer with these types of regulations. It may even contribute to the problem. It’s easy to see that if pain keeps a person from performing basic tasks, they may end up alone in their home, writhing in agony, and may very well turn to illicit drugs like heroin to self-treat their pain after being denied their prescription medications.
Pain Relief Without Opioids
There are valid arguments on both sides of the coin when it comes to prescription opioids. If there weren’t so much of the drug available illegally, it would keep many young people alive. However, denying opioids to the patient experiencing significant pain on a daily basis can make life unbearable. These across-the-board prescription limits miss the mark when so many patients in pain obviously need them. In fact, the suicide rate by pain-management patients has skyrocketed in recent years as a result of the crackdown on opioids. A better answer is needed.
Meanwhile, there is a slew of new treatments being developed to help patients with chronic pain. At Balcones Pain Consultants, we pride ourselves on keeping up-to-date on the latest research that may offer pain-relieving solutions for our patients.
Whatever the reason for your pain, there are interventional treatments that can help such as guided injections as well as newer therapies. If you suffer from pain and want it to end, contact Balcones Pain Consultants by calling (512) 834-4141 or request an appointment now to get the medical treatment you need.