How Chiropractic Can Help Battle the Opioid Epidemic
The opioid crisis in the United States is no secret, as the news is full of stories about the human and economic toll of this public health issue. The current statistics on narcotic abuse are frightening:
- In 2015, “...97.5 million Americans used, or misused, prescription pain pills.”
- There were nearly 35,000 opioid overdoses in the US in that same year.
- There are approximately 115 opioid-related deaths each day in the US. 1
- The crisis is costing us about $80 billion a year in direct and indirect costs.
It’s hard to get an exact number, but the CDC estimates that in 2014, 2 million US adults were dependent or addicted to opioids.
It’s not hyperbole to say that opioids are tearing apart many communities and families, and the problem is increasing every year.
Too Many Opioids for Musculoskeletal Pain
What’s most absurd is that we wouldn’t even be in this situation if we had a healthcare system based on wellness and prevention. Far too many people are prescribed narcotics for musculoskeletal pain: Daubresse et al 2 reported in 2013 that about 20% of patients with non-cancer pain are prescribed opioids for pain relief.
Many of these patients with musculoskeletal pain end up dependent on narcotics, with life-threatening outcomes. A recent study3 in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that 60% of opioid overdoses were first exposed to opioids when given a prescription for chronic, non-cancer pain, and 59% of those patients were given drugs for chronic back pain and 24% were for chronic headache.
Let’s rephrase that: 36% of people who died from opioid overdoses were first given a narcotic because they had back pain.
A Chiropractic Solution
Narcotics should not be the first choice for back pain. There are numerous studies that show that chiropractic care is an effective, natural approach for both acute and chronic back pain. These same studies show that chiropractic care also helps patients save money, as chiropractic adjustments are less expensive than imaging tests and medical procedures.
Now a new study4 has been published by researchers at Southern California University that shows that chiropractic helps patients avoid opiate usage for their pain. In this study, the authors examined the medical records of 13,384 back pain patients in New Hampshire during 2013-2014, half of whom saw a chiropractor for their pain and half who received regular medical care. The analysis found that chiropractic offered some important benefits over standard medical treatment:
- In 2014, the chiropractic patients had a 55% lower chance of using opioids than did medical patients.
- Chiropractic patients had significantly lower health bills than did the medical patients.
- The cost savings for chiropractic patients were dramatic: “annual charges per person were 78% lower for opioid prescriptions and 71% lower for clinical services among [chiropractic patients] compared with [medical patients].”
These findings make sense. Chiropractic care is great at treating back pain, but it also involves patient self-care and ergonomic evaluations that get the patient engaged in their care. By getting people involved in their care, they become invested in their recovery.
Opioid-Free Back Pain Treatment
Because of the tremendous financial and social costs of the opioid epidemic, we need to look at natural, healthy ways to treat back pain. This study indicates that chiropractic care is effective at reducing costs and the number of prescriptions for these potentially dangerous drugs.
- Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 16 December 2016. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm655051e1.
- Daubresse M, Chang H, Yu Y, Viswanathan S, et al. Ambulatory diagnosis and treatment of nonmalignant pain in the United States, 2000 – 2010. Medical Care 2013; 51(10): 870-878. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/MLR.0b013e3182a95d86
- Olfson M, Wall M, Wang S, Crystal S, Blanco C. Service Use Preceding Opioid-Related Fatality. American Journal of Psychiatry 2017 Nov 28. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.17070808
- Whedon JM, Toler AWJ, Goehl JM, Kazal LA. Association Between Utilization of Chiropractic Services for Treatment of Low-Back Pain and Use of Prescription Opioids. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2018; Feb 22. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0131.