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Healthbeat 4: Chronic pain, opioids and alternatives

Updated: Jun. 22, 2021 at 7:06 PM CDT
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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) -- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders And Stroke says the source of that persistent pain can include a serious infection or sprained back. However, some people suffer from it for no apparent reason. Common chronic pain complaints include constant headaches, arthritis, nerve and low back pain.

The National Institutes Of Health finds an estimated 11.2%, or more than 25-million Americans experience chronic pain, which is described as pain every day for at least three months.

Opioids, which are pain-relieving drugs, can be effective for treating pain, if a patient follows a doctor’s orders. Opioids help dull a person’s pain and boost feelings of pleasure. But they can also become dangerous because the feeling of pleasure from taking them can lead to addiction, and in some cases, death.

According preliminary data this month from the Iowa Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse, there was a 35% increase in opioid overdose deaths in 2020, compared to 2019. Early data shows there were 212 opioid overdose deaths in Iowa in 2020.

In Nebraska, the Department of Health and Human Services says in 2018, 154 people in the state died of a drug overdose, at least 60 deaths involved opioids.

The National Institutes of Health indicates, in South Dakota, half of all drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018, which is a total of 28 people statewide.

We recently spoke with Dr. Jeremy Poulsen, a local board certified anesthesiologist and pain specialist about chronic pain, opioids, and alternative treatments.

Stella: Chronic pain is an issue for some patients. But opioids aren’t always the best option, since they can be addicting. Can you elaborate? What is chronic pain? When are opioids the best course of action? What are the warning signs a patient might be developing an addiction to the opioids?

Dr. Poulsen: Chronic Pain is defined as a situation that lasts anywhere from three months to years. But typically, if you experience pain longer that three months, that is chronic pain. Obviously, opioids have been an issue in our society for a while, most notably over the last couple of years when it’s been publicized. I think it’s important to understand the difference between addiction and misuse. When someone misuses an opioid, it can be simply taking it more frequently than it’s prescribed. Addiction is when someone takes a medication to the extent they are willing to put their own good will and the good will of those around them in jeopardy.

Stella: What options does a patient have other than opioids?

Dr. Poulsen: Fortunately there are a myriad of other medications that we can use when dealing with people with chronic pain. Obviously, one size does not fit all. And every person is unique in their ability to handle certain medications. So we try to tailor medication management for our chronic pain patients. Additionally we have interventional pain treatment options, whether they’re injections, whether they’re implantable devices or surgical techniques. The one fortunate outcome from all of this opioid craziness. It’s given us an opportunity to take a step back and really dig into our tool chest and add some more tools and add some arrows to our quiver to really attack the issue that many people suffer from. A lot of people are suffering from chronic pain.

Stella: Can these alternatives be effective in managing the pain?

Dr. Poulsen: Certainly. Fortunately we are able to rely on these different measures kind of attack the pain source from different angles. The advent of medical marijuana and THC and CBD so these options have really been brought to the forefront. And I think it’s important that we understand that. Not every treatment option is going to fit every person. We need to be careful what we encourage and that we taylor those treatment options for everyone. But there are definitely options out there for people who have chronic pain and who suffer from chronic pain that will help them live a better quality of life.

Dr. Poulsen says treating chronic pain is not a quick fix. It requires working closely with your doctor to find the best option for attacking your pain.

Some people also turn to methods such as acupuncture, ice and heat application, massage and other alternative treatments.

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