Opioids have long been a first-line treatment for pain, but what options exist for opioid addicts or other people who are worried about dependency? For those patients and others suffering chronic pain, alternatives exist.
"Chronic pain studies have shown that long-term opiates are not the answer. Those patients should be managed in a different way," said Christopher Solaro, chief of medicine and an emergency medicine physician at Blessing Hospital. "There have been efforts to take a more holistic approach to pain management."
A 2012 National Institutes of Health analysis showed that physician-recommended holistic approaches like massages, acupuncture, physical therapy, spinal manipulation, meditation and biofeedback -- the process of gaining greater awareness of physiological functions with the goal of being able to manipulate them -- are commonly used by adults to treat pain. Thirty-two percent of adults surveyed said they used these approaches in complement to prescription drugs and conventional physician services, and about 59 million Americans spend an estimated $30 billion out-of-pocket on these complementary approaches each year due to the methods less likely being covered by insurance.
Others use these holistic methods as the only way they treat pain.
"This is where experts in pain management can really help," Solaro said. He added that other approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants to treat nerve pain, anticunvulsents to treat nerve and chronic pain, and nonaddictive, nonopiate drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin and Tylenol to treat daily pain.
Michael Connolly, a physician at Southern Illinois University's Center for Family Medicine, agreed.
"I don't see anything new coming down the pipeline as far as pain medications that are non-narcotic. The hope is that we can tailor a drug that affects the same receptors but doesn't have the euphoria. It's the euphoria where people get into problems," he said, adding that treating a patient in a way different than opiates is ideal.
"What is a functional goal for the patient? Unfortunately, chronic pain is something people do have to live with, and I think the idea of not being in any pain is a cultural and generational thing," Connolly said. "Before, people lived with a certain amount of expected pain. You worked around it. I think it'll be one or two generations before we get past the whole, ‘You have to treat my pain, you have to get me out of pain.'"