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Erica Hoffman

Communications intern

Finding the Right Alternative for You: Managing Chronic Pain

March 6, 2017 | Addictions | Comments
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The nation was shocked when the police department in East Liverpool, Ohio, shared a photo on social media of a couple who had overdosed and passed out in their car. What made this photo so disturbing, and ultimately go viral, was the child who was left in the backseat, staring into the camera.

It was a grim reminder of the human toll of addiction. And a wake-up call for many.

Ohio leads the nation when it comes to opioid overdose deaths, with approximately 2,100 deaths in 2014 alone. Unfortunately, the influx of opioid-related deaths is not unique to Ohio. Over the last seven years, rates of opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled nationwide. According to the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, 78 people die every day from an opioid overdose—and that number is growing.

Fueling this problem is our dependence on prescription opioids to control pain. Prescriptions for opioid analgesics have increased by more than 100 percent since 2000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 100 million Americans have chronic pain—more than those with diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. The high number of opioid prescriptions to treat chronic pain is one of the largest contributors to this striking opioid epidemic.

So, what can be done to prevent overdose deaths, particularly when dealing with chronic pain? One of the National Council’s recent webinars outlined more safe and effective alternatives to opiates, like mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In the most basic terms, we must improve the process behind prescribing opioids, expand treatment of addiction and reduce access to illegal opioids.

Passage of the 21st Century Cures Act is a start. This bill includes a new, two-year pool of funding that helps states address the opioid epidemic and will be devoted to prevention measures and education initiatives surrounding opioid abuse. The funding from the Cures Act builds on major expansions of treatment seen as a result of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, a sign of increased awareness among legislators that we must do more to prevent and treat opioid abuse.

Because pain may not always go away as easily or wholly as one would hope, it is crucial to reframe the term “effectiveness” to focus more on learning to independently self-manage pain to achieve maximum functioning in daily life and activities. Behavioral health professionals Elizabeth Peterson-Vita, Paula M. Gardiner and Suzanne Mitchell say that the key to redefining the success of treatment is to focus on how an individual can gain confidence, acquire better coping skills and assert more control over personal experience through living in the present. Tools like mindfulness and CBT help get the ball rolling in this process.

In an age when 85 percent of Americans use the internet, digital therapies are becoming increasingly prevalent and important when it comes to achieving this goal. myStrength is a web and mobile self-help tool that uses principles of CBT to extend evidence-based resources emphasizing empowerment and self-management of physical and emotional pain. Online therapies like myStrength can be used to address the multiple modalities of chronic pain and are simultaneously affordable, accessible and safe alternatives to opioids.

For more information on alternative methods for treating chronic pain, check out the webinar with myStrength, Beyond the Pill: Effective Strategies for Managing Chronic Pain and Reducing Opioid Usage. View the slides and listen to the recording.