The opioid crisis. It could have been predicted, after all.
Today you hear the smart young health advocates talk about setting up “pain clinics” as the “NEW” answer to the opioid crisis. You have already seen holistic wellness centers and alternative medicine practices cropping up on almost every corner. But, let’s remember the ’70s. When you had unlimited visits to chiropractors and physical therapists; when doctors could take their time to talk to you and treat you – when triple booking patients was not an industry best practice – but reserved for flu epidemics and such? If you’re under 45 years old, you won’t have any idea about this – unless you are a medical history buff. If you’re a physician you won’t even get this “old school” information taught to you in med school. But this was before managed care – before big pharma, big health-insurance-business, big hospital-business, and big government regulation – when these things weren’t just tried here and there – they were a staple of medical care.
In the early ’80s a severe sciatica problem had me going dutifully to my chiropractor 3 times a week. The most I did for pain outside of those visits was Tylenol and an ice blanket. I was re-educated about how to not cross my legs at the knee, but instead at the ankle, when I sat for long periods of time; how I should get up and walk around about once an hour at work; and why carrying a heavy pocketbook and briefcase over one shoulder was no longer advisable. I also learned about anti-inflammatory foods, and got advice on the proper exercise to do – and not to do. It was a struggle, and it didn’t go away quickly, and there was one bout of a prescribed muscle relaxer for a few days – but, slowly, I learned the triggers and the treatments.
What would that treatment look like today? What would the pill of choice be that I would be prescribed? And how many would I get? Would I get beyond 5 to 10 office visits to a chiropractor? Would physical therapy be covered at all – and what would the wait time be to get in to see someone? Would there be some counseling provided as to a good diet and proper exercise – and preventive techniques?
90% of pain clinics ceased to exist – yes, they were closing up shop, except for those serving the more well to do – out-of-pocket patient base. Other than that, compensation and reimbursements were drying up. People were still in pain – and there was no miracle new drug that had been discovered. Big-everything changed all that. Managed-everything was faster, cheaper, and less holistic. And, today we find ourselves in an addiction and overdose epidemic of epic proportions.
I agree with this article, by Cindy Perlen, LCSW, and posted on KevinMD.com.
Now that we are in this crisis – in 2016 – what are we talking about to deal with this opioid prescription crisis and a population increasingly in need of pain control? We’re talking about opening pain clinics, and encouraging (not paying for) people to seek alternative methods of dealing with pain – get a massage, go to an acupuncturist, utilize exercise. Only if you really get hurt will it be paid for, and then, that treatment will also get restricted as to numbers of visits and/or costs. We’re also talking about limiting pills doctors can give their patients. We’re investigating doctors. We’re criminalizing the medical system – and people who get hooked. Of course, there are real reasons to do some of that. But in our rush to criminalize, to sanction, and to walk government right into the hallowed privacy of the doctor patient examining room, we have forgotten what got us there. We have forgotten that we already know much about how to fix people in chronic pain.
For those who, because of their brain wiring, being prescribed opioids was the worst possible treatment. Now, they are on an addiction spiral, and we struggle to know what to do. We have never seen a crisis like this. Our drugs won’t take care of it. Our prisons won’t. Our mental hospitals won’t. For now – it is our graveyards that are.
It is time we face this square on. Pay for proper treatment of people in pain. Open the pain clinics. Pay for “alternative” care. Re-educate the medical specialists who know so little about other ways to treat – other than pills and surgery. Stop the problem from continuing. And figure out how to clean up the mess that has been left behind.
Put the blame where it belongs. We did this to ourselves. I swear if you live long enough, you really do begin to see everything “old” become “new” again – functional exercise replacing use of complex equipment; simple, real foods replacing fast food grazing; custom-made anything replacing manufactured goods; “made in the USA” a better brand than the magic of manufacturing “made in China”, natural materials over plastics, organic over GMOs. Eastern medicine looked at with new eyes, as Western medicine struggles to keep the healthy healthy, but has a pill for every ailment.
Don’t blame the doctors. Don’t blame the patients. Blame big pharma, big business, big medical-training, and big government…
Retraining and new curriculum for medical professionals. Healthcare for all might be the only answer – with a prevention and holistic focus – that’s two places to start. Pay for proper treatment of people with pain. Invest in prevention. Help the addicted and the overdosing. Sometimes it seems as though the plan is to wait until they all die away, and we can hit reset. Sometimes it seems that we are on that road. We simply can’t do that. Nor can we fail to address that as we live longer, and are more active, people will have pain. Intense pain. Pain that we already know much about treating. And we’re only offering half the treatments that are out there. Or will we only stoke the science machine to develop that next new pill?