Note: This article was updated on April 28, 2018.
With nearly 2.5 million Americans said to be addicted to prescription opioids or heroin, there is no doubt that we are in the midst of an epidemic involving addiction to painkillers.
Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids—including prescription painkillers and heroin—nearly quadrupled, and over 180,000 people have died from prescription opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The problem gets even more complicated when people treated for addiction to painkillers get seriously hurt or need surgery. Many doctors—rightfully worried about further fueling the drug epidemic—are not always equipped to safely manage these patients’ pain.
As a result, many people suffering from chronic pain end up with no choice but to become dependent on opioids.
There is hope, however.
In recent years, there have been plenty of studies and examples that show that—with the proper treatment and monitoring from a pain management specialist—you can reduce your opioid dependence.
Let’s get something out of the way first: when talking about reducing chronic pain in patients, it’s important to distinguish the terms addiction and dependence.
Dependence is when a patient says, “I can’t quit,” because of his or her fear of going into withdrawal. Addiction, on the other hand, is when a patient says, “I can’t stay quit,” a result of wanting to use opioids for reasons other than pain management after they are no longer necessary.
Reserving the term “addict” for the second group of patients would help us prevent more people from being misdiagnosed when seeking pain medication and put an emphasis on monitoring patients for relapse over the long-term when they show signs of having an addiction.
Also, despite what most may believe, opioids might still need to be prescribed to patients with chronic pain.
Numerous studies point to several factors that have been proven to effectively reduce patients’ dependence on opioids:
- Only one physician should prescribe all pain medications
- The physician needs to be aware of the patient’s tolerance potential
- The doctor treating the patient needs to periodically wean the patient off pain medications and frequently reassess his or her pain control
- When possible, use nonpsychotropic pain medications
- Incorporating alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, nutrition, and meditation or mindfulness exercises into treatment, as well as newer regenerative healing pain procedures such as PRP, prolotherapy and stem cell therapy
This is why when Prince died in 2016 from an accidental opioid overdose, we were shocked and saddened just like many others.
But Dr. Tolbert made it a point to speak up and say that it was not OK to demonize pain medications and the people—celebrity or not—who need them. It is just not that simple.
Ultimately, Dr. Tolbert explained, reducing opioid dependence is ultimately about the relationship between a doctor and the patient and how they figure out the best way to manage the pain.
Nine times out of 10, we have found, pain medications are just one part of the entire method being used to reduce a patient’s suffering. We’ll never know exactly what happened with Prince or why he died because we weren’t there when he was most at pain.
The point we’re trying to make is that people turn to painkillers for all sorts of reasons. At the Tolbert Center, we have seen patients suffer from chronic pain due to surgical complications, gunshot wounds to the head, rape, spine trauma and cancer.
There statistics are true: far too many people are becoming addicted to or dying from prescription painkillers. But opioids do play an important role in managing chronic pain when prescribed and supervised properly.
That’s why it’s important to have all treatments and prescriptions customized for each patient. At the Center, we even offer genetic testing to see what medications are best for your body.
The Tolbert Center for Rehabilitation and Wellness is a Los Angeles-area state-of-the-art medical facility specializing in using non-surgical and minimally invasive techniques and procedures for the management of chronic pain. Dr. Glenna Tolbert, the founder of the center, is Board Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, with a sub-specialty in Spinal Cord Medicine. Dr. Tolbert believes in a holistic approach to healthcare, where the physician, team of specialists and patients work in partnership to restore the quality of life to each patient.
To learn how you can treat a number of chronic pain conditions for less money than it takes to have a spa day, check out our pricing at DrGlennaTolbert.com.