Chronic pain, which is any pain that lasts more than 3 months, can be caused by anything from osteoarthritis to an injury that does not heal properly. Because of the variety of causes for chronic pain there is no one-size-fits-all solution for patients dealing with these conditions. Among the most common, and often most effective, treatments for short-term cases of pain are pain medications, such as opioids. Painkillers are prescribed to help control the pain symptoms for many conditions, but doctors are often cautious about them in the long-term considering the potential side effects.

Opioids aren’t the only type of pain medications that are prescribed for chronic pain; however, they may have the most negative side effects.

Patients taking opioid medications often develop a tolerance to the drug and need to continuously increase the dosage to receive the same level of relief. This can sometimes lead to problems with addiction. It is also why opioid use for long-term conditions is contraindicative. Other medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, and muscle relaxants. While these medications also have side effects, they are not likely to result in addiction.

The CDC recently reported their findings of pain medication prescriptions throughout the United States. Some states appear to have a larger issue with painkiller prescriptions, and potential abuse, while other states have taken action to prevent bigger problems from occurring.

In many cases, there is a chicken or the egg argument that can be made. In the South, for example, pain medications are prescribed at a rate of up to 143 prescriptions per 100 people. These states include Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. However, the bigger question might not be the prevalent use of painkillers by patients in these states, but rather the prevalence of pain.

While Southern states are often at the top of the list for most pain medication prescriptions, other states are affected as well.

Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio are in the same position. In fact, New Hampshire and Maine currently have the highest prescription painkiller rates in the U.S. These numbers don’t start to sound overwhelming until you realize that these 2 states are prescribing the equivalent of over 1 bottle of painkiller medications per adult. This becomes even more concerning when you recognize that an average of 46 people die every day due to overdoses of these perfectly legal, prescribed medications meant to treat them.

A major reason for the high numbers in some states is the different approaches of healthcare providers. Operations referred to as “pill mills” will prescribe medication to some adults who may not even need them to properly treat their conditions. These are for-profit clinic without much oversight for recognizing and treating the effects of their prescription recommendations.

However, some states are reducing their dependence on highly addictive pain medications. New Jersey, Minnesota, New York, California, and Hawaii all show the lowest rates of painkiller prescriptions in the nation.

The article from the Washington Post notes that:

“Policy can play a role in addressing the problem, though. The federal government can help states implement their own overdose prevention programs, boost access to mental health and substance abuse treatment and give health-care providers better data and guidance. States can improve prescription monitoring, implement policies to cut back on oversubscribing pain clinics, better evaluate their own data and programs, and boost substance abuse treatment programs.”

New York, for example, has reduced the number of patients seeking multiple prescribers to receive more medication by 75% after introducing a program to check a database before writing a prescription. The state’s prescription drug monitoring program allowed doctors to determine if the patient had received other prescriptions from other locations which contributed to their addiction. Because of this, fewer patients were receiving multiple prescriptions for the same drugs from different doctors which, in turn, decreased their risk of overdose.

Other states also implemented similar programs.

Florida saw a 50% decrease in overdose deaths from oxycodone after they established a specialized pain clinic program that oversaw the dispensing of these drugs. Tennessee, using a similar system to New York, saw a 36% decrease in patients receiving multiple prescriptions.

The rest of the nation can follow suit by adhering to regulations established by the CDC to prevent overprescribing and overdoses in their citizens who use pain medications regularly. This can improve not only the rates of unfortunate deaths in these states but also the overall quality of life for patients suffering from chronic pain conditions. Data bases, addiction counseling, and managed pain clinics can all help reduce the dependence on painkillers throughout the United States.

Where does Arizona stand?

Arizona currently stands lower than average among states who prescribe the most pain medications. Currently, the statistic for the state stands at 82 painkiller prescriptions per 100 adults in 2012. Improvements are continuously being made to change these odds for patients who have chronic pain conditions.

Arizona Pain Specialists, our partner company, takes a strong stance on opioid pain medications.  Our holistic specialists are dedicated to improving quality of life and improving pain. This is accomplished with comprehensive treatments plans that are safe and effective and designed to reduce risks.

The risks inherent in opioid therapy or narcotic medications are taken quite seriously. Our specialists adhere to the DEA recommendations regarding prescriptions of this type of pain medication. Opioid medications are only prescribed when the patient’s specific condition and pathology warrants that type of treatment and if they have not had success with other, lower risk treatment options.

Patients dealing with the effects of chronic pain don’t need to have the added concern of pain medication tolerance or addiction to deal with as well. Improvements can be made across the United States that can reduce the dependence on these substances and create more effective care for chronic pain patients.  This may mean more attention is paid to alternative therapies that have limited side effects, if any at all. Opioids can be used effectively as pain medication as long as they are properly monitored and both doctors and patients have some level of accountability in the treatment process.

What are your thoughts on the current numbers in the United States when it comes to pain medications prescriptions, overuse, and overdoses?

Image by Eric Fischer via Flickr


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