More than 200,000 Americans died from overdoses related to prescription opioids between 1999 and 2016. In a recently published article for Morning Consult, John V. Prunskis, MD, FIPP, co-founder and medical director of the Illinois Pain Institute, wrote about alternative ways to treat pain, and the responsibility of physicians to promote these safer methods.

“Rather than simply reducing opioid prescriptions to patients, we need to encourage multifaceted treatment regimens that use non-opioid alternatives when possible to alleviate pain,” Prunskis wrote. Safe and effective alternatives include interventional pain management procedures like site-specific steroid injections, physical therapy, and non-opioid prescription medications. When opioid medications are a necessity, they should be given in appropriate doses and closely monitored.

A major flaw of opioid medications, Prunskis said, aside from their highly addictive properties, is that they mask the pain instead of fixing it. Prunskis pointed to a number of studies, including a 2015 article published in the journal of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine that explains: “Opiates [for lower back pain] do not have much convincing evidence and compared to interventional therapies, they have fewer efficacies not only in controlling pain but also improving function.”

Arguments that alternative treatments often present negative side effects are unfounded, Prunskis continued. In a 2011 study published in Pain Medicine, not one of the nearly 2,000 patients who received epidural injections for their pain reported a serious complication from the procedure.

“As we seek evidence-based methods to provide patients with the highest quality of care while also tackling an opioid epidemic, we must have a robust conversation about how to include pain intervention procedures,” Prunskis concluded. “Physicians should promote safe procedures that provide relief to Americans suffering from painful conditions, and whenever possible, should fix the source of an individual’s pain rather than just masking it with opioids.”

Read the whole article here.

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