As the opioid crisis rages on, the healthcare industry is looking for alternatives to pain management. The crisis has spurred people from all over the industry, from pharmacists to physicians to healthcare technology companies to pharmaceutical manufacturers, to reconsider their approach.
This type of approach is undoubtedly necessary: Deaths related to opioid doses still kill about 150 Americans every day, according to the National Institutes of Health. One recent study found that Americans are prescribed opioids far more often for surgery than in other similar countries—in Sweden, 11% of patients received opioids after surgery, compared to over 70% in the United States. This is a problem, because around 21 to 29% of patients prescribed opioids develop an addition.
The good news, however, is that opioid prescription rates are declining. According to the CDC, opioid prescribing rates have been falling in recent years, from a high of 81.3 prescriptions per 100 persons in 2012 to 58.7 prescriptions in 2017.
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Lowering prescribing rates, however, only solves one part of the equation. Patients still need a way to cope with pain, leading many to consider alternate solutions. From acupuncture to novel electrotherapies, here are some of ways healthcare is rethinking pain management.
One of the innovative tools used to move patients away from opioids isn’t so new or innovative at all.
Acupuncture is old—very old. Archeologists have found evidence of sharpened bones and rocks that they believe were used for acupuncture as long as 8,000 years ago. Now commonly associate with traditional Chinese Medicine, the practice was and has been somewhat on the fringes in Western medicine (and for a significant length of time in China, it was outlawed in 1929 and reinstated in 1949).
In the 1990s, however, acupuncture began to receive more attention. In a 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association article, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave “cautious approval of some applications of acupuncture.” After looking at the research, NIH concluded that there is evidence the practice helps with post-operative nausea and vomiting, as well as those same symptoms caused by chemotherapy and post-operative dental pain.
Currently, the NIH website says of acupuncture: “Although millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, often for chronic pain, there has been considerable controversy surrounding its value as a therapy and whether it is anything more than placebo. Research exploring a number of possible mechanisms for acupuncture’s pain-relieving effects is ongoing.”
But with the opioid crisis comes a need for alternative, non-addictive approaches to pain management, and many believe acupuncture could be a viable solution.
Perhaps the greatest indication that acupuncture has hit the mainstream is a 3-year program sponsored by the Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management (DVCIPM), part of the Department of Defense focusing on pain relief. The program trained over 2,800 clinicians—including a number of pharmacists—in what’s known as battlefield acupuncture (BFA).
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