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The Dark Side of Opioids for Pain Relief

In her recent broadcast, Why Opioid-Related Deaths Continue to Rise and What Can Be Done to Reverse the Trend, popular National Public Radio host and author Diane Rehm touched on the central problem of doctor-prescribed opioid pain killers: they are highly addictive and too easy to dispense. Under the culture of quick fixes, doctors readily hand out prescriptions when a milder, less abusive option is available. Why is this?

The fact is these medications are not safe. Nearly twenty percent of Americans already take at least five or more prescription drugs regularly. And rarely, if ever, are these prescriptions cross-checked. In a startling statistic on causes of death in the U.S., total drug overdoses from prescribed medications alone, including opiates, killed more Americans than firearms or motor vehicle accidents. The real crux of our nation’s heroin epidemic stems from the overprescribing of opiates, legally. Nearly four out of five current heroin addicts state that they began using illegal drugs only after being prescribed opiates by doctors for pain.

So what is the reason why so many Americans are on prescription drugs?
The risk of addiction is high, whether for school athletes, parents of young children or seniors. Isit that doctors are simply too heavy-handed with their prescription pads? Are these doctors being influenced by Big Pharma and believe that prescription drugs are a quick fix to all our health problems? The honest answer is that, yes, physicians have been giving out way too many prescriptions, and in their defense, patients also do not want to leave the office without a script. In her new book, Drug Dealer, MD – How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It’s So Hard to Stop, author and psychiatrist Anna Lembke, MD, points out that we live in a society today that does not want to feel pain.

Per Dr. Lembke, this change in thinking about pain marked a radical shift in America’s attitude from 100 years ago, when the medical community thought that pain made patients stronger. “Doctors believed that pain was salutary,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “meaning that it had some physiologic benefit to the individual, and certainly some spiritual benefit.” Today, not only do doctors believe that pain is something they must cure at all costs, but patients have become less willing to endure it. Further complicating the whole transaction is that for too long there has never been any oversight.

Are there alternatives to effectively manage pain?
Now, with prescription drug monitoring programs, the easy prescribing habits of doctors have come to a halt. Still, pain is real and very often patients are the ones having to manage it. Can I restore quality of life without having major surgery or popping too many pills, they ask? Yes, a better way to approach pain relief is to target the different ways in which pain is produced. It’s not about adding more and more, but about treatments complementing and enhancing one another to reduce inflammation, alleviate anxiety, decompress nerves, increase metabolism, lower toxicity, reduce unnecessary pills, and so on. Studies have shown that statin drugs, for instance, are a primary predictor of pain. Likewise, an eleven to eighteen percent reduction in body weight significantly decreases the severity of pain. By taking a holistic, functional approach to pain relief, patients find there are numerous ways to restore quality of life that can be sustained into old age.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Overview of My Forthcoming Book

Your body has been failing you, possibly for decades, and no one can tell you why or how to fix it. The option you’ve been given, relying on prescription drugs with unknown side effects, is not working for you. You have been passed from doctor to doctor, and had to begin figuring it out on your own. My book, Grassroots Medicine: Facing Illness and Finding the Courage to Heal, will support you when medicine fails, enabling you to take control of your health through better knowledge and foundational action. I will share with you the clinical histories of others whose health had become elusive; medicine had failed them, but together we were able to move them on the path toward wellness. Grassroots Medicine will help you do that, too.

Using my twenty-five years of personal and professional experience, I will share all that I’ve learned from working in the field. Grassroots Medicine is about a new paradigm born from the adversity of working outside the mainstream, with patients who want and need answers. Readers who follow my teachings will be better equipped to make informed decisions and will learn how to work in partnership with a supportive doctor. I will illustrate these principles with anecdotes, exercises and lessons, making it easy for readers to find the courage to implement the teachings I provide.

Like millions of people across the country, my patients tend to be undermanaged or over-diagnosed. Either they don’t receive the tests they need and the means to resolve their growing list of symptoms, or they have seen every specialist, been through all the tests, and are taking far too many medications. Both categories include people who believe they are following the rules, but still not getting any resolution as day by day, their condition worsens.

My patients have two tendencies: first, they believe themselves worthy of care. They often see themselves as “basically healthy” even while taking prescription drugs or recovering from a major medical procedure. They carry with them a laundry list of side effects and unresolved symptoms. They see themselves as needing care, worth of it, and having the capacity to heal with better instruction. This mindset is crucial for healing.

Second, everyone wants a doctor who listens. In part, I believe this is the result of an overburdened medical system that is beginning to fail. The doctor-patient relationship has become strained, as doctors feel pressured to quickly diagnose and prescribe effective treatment that satisfies either insurance companies or hospital administrations. By the time my patients find their way to me, they’ve seen doctor after doctor after doctor. Many have been told they’re crazy or that their symptoms are all in their heads. They receive one more unwanted prescription and are referred out.

My readers are tired of this. They have grown sick and tired of travelling from doctor to doctor not getting the answers they need. They don’t want to “wait and see” if their health worsens—they want to do something now, today! They are motivated to take action, but they need to be empowered. Grassroots Medicine will be the handbook they need. It will place the promise of better health at their fingertips by:

  • allowing them to grasp, possibly for the first time that while a cure is not likely, recovery, with a lot of hard work and guidance
  • seeing in others their own story of pain and helplessness and transform it into one of personal struggle and perseverance
  • providing knowledge about root causes of disease and how to address these one by one
  • giving reasons why their health is failing, including the emotional blocks, habits and mindsets that are contributing factors and what they can do to avoid these

When readers finish Grassroots Medicine, they will understand how their most painful experiences can also be their most rewarding. Getting well is a lifelong commitment to nurturing body, mind and spirit. Readers will come to approach illness as an opportunity to change their lives in ways they never imagined, fulfilling dreams they never thought possible, making each day, each moment more transformative. Grassroots Medicine is about making good health a revolutionary act, and turning the conscience of healing into an everyday habit.

Be sure to check back soon for more info about my next book!

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.