If opioids are the question, what is the answer?


In the last month, I have attended three webinars for Nurse Practitioners and Physicians describing the opioid crisis and why healthcare providers must reduce the number of opioid prescriptions they write. The common question in all of these lectures was:

“How can we reduce opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths?”

The consensus was that healthcare providers need to write fewer prescriptions for these medications and, when they are needed, only prescribe them for short-term use. During these webinars, there were several recurring questions raised by my colleagues.

  1. If we (as healthcare providers) reduce or eliminate the prescribing of opioid medications, how can we effectively treat acute and chronic pain?
  2. When is it appropriate to prescribe opioid medications?
  3. If it is not appropriate to use opioids to treat pain, what should be prescribed or recommended instead?

Treating pain, especially chronic pain, is a complicated issue. What eliminates pain for one patient will have minimal effect on pain for another patient. Surgery, and other procedures can improve musculosketal and neurological pain. However, these procedures are often expensive, must be scheduled several weeks in advance, and are not without side-effect risk.

So, what is the healthcare provider supposed to do? Allowing a patient to remain in pain is not an acceptable answer. I believe most healthcare providers want to relieve their patient’s pain; they don’t intend to prescribe a medication that can lead to addiction, drug diversion, or death.

While healthcare licensing boards, associations, and government committees continue to wrestle with what, if any, rules should be enforced for opioid prescribing; Healing Warriors has been successfully operating a non-opioid treatment clinic since 2013.

Healing Warriors is a nonprofit clinic and registered VA Vendor located in Fort Collins, Colorado. They serve veterans, active duty military personnel, and their family members. They offer Acupuncture, Cranio Sacral Therapy, and Healing Touch to improve pain, PTSD symptoms, and sleep. Their work is offered in collaboration with traditional medical care, not in place of it.  This type of healthcare is called integrative health; the combining of traditional western medicine with complementary therapies.

Since opening their doors, the practitioners at Healing Warriors have provided more than 11,000 treatment sessions. On average, their clients report a 50% decrease in pain after receiving a treatment session. People from around the country have taken note of the work Healing Warriors is doing.  Ana Yelen, Executive Director of Healing Warriors, said healthcare practitioners and professionals are contacting the Healing Warriors office seeking information on how to start similar clinics in their communities.

There are no straight-forward answers to the opioid epidemic, but perhaps integrative therapies can play a positive role in pain treatment. If you would like to learn more about integrative treatments for pain, click on the links below.

Mayo Clinic  

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine