With opioid addictions and overdoses increasing in epidemic proportions, the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress has hopes of reversing this trend.
They’ve begun by sponsoring an annual nationwide campaign designed to bring awareness to the value of choosing chiropractic care over prescription drugs for effective, yet safe pain relief.
The Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development has joined the effort, officially designating September Drug-Free Management Awareness Month on the American Hospital Association’s yearly calendar.
What has brought about this push?
The problem begins
“The perfect storm that created this moment involves medical physicians being taught and trained to view pain as a 5th vital sign,” says Gerard W. Clum, DC, President Emeritus, Life Chiropractic College West, Director, The Octagon, Life University, Advisor, Foundation for Chiropractic Progress.
This has forced them “to aggressively treat it with drugs that were purported by the pharmaceutical industry to be minimally addictive and in need of far wider usage in our society,” says Clum. “It is the top of the food chain of the societal ‘pill for every ill, potion for every emotion’ attitude in contemporary medical practice.”
As a result, doctors and patients are using opioid-based pain relievers “far too early and far too often,” says Clum. “No one is interested in denying the acute trauma patient, post-surgical patient, or the cancer-pain related patient access to these products,” Clum adds, “but once beyond these parameters, the utility of these drugs is highly questioned.” There are other negative consequences associated with this course of treatment as well.
The need for drug-free pain alternatives
“Over 90 people a day are dying due to the use of opioids,” says Sherry McAllister DC, MS(Ed), CCSP, Executive Vice President, Foundation for Chiropractic Progress. Not only is the loss of life tragic in and of itself, it’s also creating a financial strain on our nation as a whole.
“The combined incremental costs of care and lost productivity from non-cancer pain cost the U.S. economy an estimated $560–$635 billion annually, equating to a cost of $2,000 per U.S. resident,” says McAllister.
Compare this to the costs of caring for patients with health issues such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and the amount is significantly higher, says McAllister.
“Chronic pain is especially costly,” McAllister adds, sharing that “nationally, this chronic pain epidemic costs $297-$336 billion in lost productivity. Related to employees, this includes $226.3 billion in lost wages. For employers, they incorporate $96.5 billion in lost work hours and $12.7 billion in missed work days.”
Chiropractic’s role in drug-free pain relief
“The time is now to look at a safer alternative,” says McAllister. Clum agrees, stating that chiropractic professionals are “ideally positioned” to take a leading role in this regard.
With low back pain the top cause of disability globally, Clum says that DCs are in a prime spot to create a greater societal push to deal with this type of musculoskeletal pain in a safer manner.
With chiropractic, “patients are provided care that addresses the cause of the pain and instructed on home exercises and treatment plans that best meet their individual needs,” says McAllister, citing that research shows that this provides a multitude of benefits, both individually and collectively.
For example, one 2016 study published in Journal of Occupation Rehabilitation analyzed a cohort of 5,511 workers, assessing the duration of financial compensation for occupational back pain and whether or not a second episode occurred (requiring compensation). Results were categorized based on whether the patient first saw a physician, chiropractor, or physical therapist.
“When compared with medical doctors, chiropractors were associated with shorter duration of compensation and physical therapists with longer ones,” points out McAllister.
Additionally, patients who first engaged with a physical therapist “were more likely to seek additional types of care that incurred longer compensation duration,” says McAllister.
There’s also the fact that chiropractic has been found to, more often than not, negate the need for surgical intervention. “Earlier research confirms that 42.7 percent of workers who initially visited a surgeon underwent surgery,” says McAllister, “in comparison to only 1.5 percent of those who first consulted a chiropractor.”
DCs can do their part
What can individual DCs do to bring awareness to this growing problem, highlighting chiropractic as an effective solution? For starters, they can “share materials such as our resource paper on chiropractic, ‘Chiropractic: A Safer and Cost-Effective Approach to Health,’ with the healthcare community and legislators,” says McAllister. Another option is to “schedule community talks to educate the community on using a safer approach for pain management before opioids.”
Clum has a number of additional ways DCs can take a more active role in reversing the opioid trend. This includes educating yourself about the current opioid crisis, as well as governmental responses associated with it, helping you to “understand that the majority of opioid prescribing is NOT consistent with current recommendations and uses,” says Clum. “In particular, appreciate that opioids are minimally, if effective at all, in the chronic pain environment.”
Clum also suggests that it’s beneficial to remember that opioid addiction knows no bounds, affecting individuals in every demographic. Clum further urges DCs to “tell the truth, [but] don’t capitalize on it. Offer consumers examples of how people get addicted and provide them with input as to what they can do to minimize addiction for themselves as well as for their families.”
Lastly, “outline for them how chiropractic care is a logical and reasonable alternative for many non-cancer, non-post-surgical, pain patients,” says Clum. Teach them the dangers of opioid use and compel them to “do the right thing.”
“The good you do will be returned to you ten-fold,” says Clum. That makes this an effort that has a high, and very valuable, rate of return.