Since 2014, America has seen record highs in opioid fatalities and the epidemic shows no signs of tapering. In 2016, there were over 50,000 fatal opioid overdoses, accounting for the overwhelming majority of the approximately 64,000 total fatal drug overdoses in the country. Whatever their initial purpose may have been and however effective they may be in a clinical context; more and more clinicians find themselves trying harder and harder to balance the benefits of opioids with their risks and exploring new ways to treat moderate to severe pain. While the clinical mandate has, for a long time, been to make patients as comfortable as possible by practically any means necessary, finding alternatives to opioids for pain management is becoming an increasingly urgent priority.
While there are numerous holistic therapies to help pain-sufferers manage their everyday symptoms, including yoga, exercise, acupuncture, meditation, massage and more, not all of them are effective for every patient. Some treatment providers are offering different types of programs that allow patients to avoid taking potentially addictive prescription painkillers. In situations in which medication is absolutely necessary, clinicians can help mitigate the risk of addiction by offering simplified and integrated treatment that offers patients access to behavioral care professionals, pharmacists and addiction-trained medical personnel. These safety nets can make all the difference in the absence of total alternatives to opioids for pain management.
Opioid addiction is a problem that must be addressed on multiple levels. As painkiller overdose and addiction becomes more and more pervasive, perhaps the start of reversing the trend is adopting more rigorous dispensation standards while trying to identify alternatives to opioids. While a great deal of emphasis has been placed on enforcement, prosecution and even legislative reform, it may be time to more closely examine prescribing practices in the ER and the family practice.