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Can Chiropractic help with the Opiate Epidemic?

Opiates are getting a lot of press recently, and not for positive reasons. The surgeon general released a statement that outlined the extent of the overuse and overprescription of these drugs in the United States.

image of opiates

What are opiates?

Opiates are drugs derived from or related to opium. They include Vicodin, Oxycontin, Fentanyl and even illegal Heroin. The drug attaches to specific receptors in the brain and reduces the perception of pain. That means they do nothing to reduce the pain, such as reducing inflammation, they only change the way the user experiences the signals coming from their body.

Many people abusing these medications got their start from prescription medications used unnecessarily or for a longer time than was needed. The CDC stated that 1 in 4 people treated with opiates by their physician ended up struggling with dependence. These highly addictive drugs modify the pleasure centers in the brain leading to uncontrollable cravings and outright addiction.

How big is the problem?
In the surgeon general’s statement, he stated that 78 people die from opiate overdoses every day. 10 million people reported misuse of opiates. Most unbelievably, the prescribing of opiates by medical doctors has increased by 400% in the years since 1999.

Often, doctors run out of ideas when it comes to chronic pain, and prescribe opiates when NSAIDs like Motrin or Advil are not doing enough to allow their patients to function. This is where chiropractors come in. Chiropractic is a natural, drug-free treatment, focusing on relieving the cause of some types of chronic pain. According to this 2010 epidemiological study, 20 to 15 million people get a first episode of lower back pain every year. Up to 80% of people with that pain have recurrences after a year. As many chiropractors will tell you, recurrent pain often comes when the cause

of the problem is not addressed. Covering up the pain with medications like opiates or NSAIDs does nothing to change joint restrictions, muscle tightness or weakness that is causing the back to become painful. Spinal manipulation and exercise were shown to be the only effective non-pharmacological treatments for chronic lower back pain in this Annals of Internal Medicine study.

What are the CDC recommendations?
In order to try to address the opiate epidemic at its source, the CDC has made recommendations to prescribing doctors in the US to limit opiate prescriptions to 3 days after an acute injury. The dosages are also restricted, and non-opiate treatments are preferred.

Primary care physicians who recommend opiates before a trial of chiropractic are doing their patients a disservice. The list of side effects from opiates range from addiction to depression and constipation, to making pain feel even stronger, a condition called opiate-induced hyperalgesia. Chiropractic has been proven effective for back pain, (here is another study) and has no side effects. Chiropractic patients are also happier with their care for lower back pain, than medical patients.

If you are struggling with addiction, understand that it is not a personal failing, but a strong chemical response causing the addiction. The drug acts on pathways that circumvent your willpower and ability to stop on your own. The National Institute of Health has an information page with links to places that can help.

Dr French has years of experience treating many different kinds of pain. If you are dealing with chronic pain, and are in the Norwalk, CT area, contact us to see if we can come up with a drug-free way to manage or fix your pain.