Chronic pain sufferers at high risk of opioid addiction

Jun 29, 2016, 8:48 AM | Updated: Jul 27, 2016, 11:32 am

SPONSORED — At one time or another, life is a pain for everyone, but for those suffering from actual chronic pain, everyday life can be excruciating — and debilitating. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports chronic pain is the leading cause of long-term disability and the most common reason Americans access the health care system.

Unfortunately, many of those suffering from pain soon begin suffering from another disease altogether, one that can further destroy their quality of life: opioid addiction.

Opioids, like Vicodin, OxyContin, Norco or hydrocodone, are commonly prescribed to treat pain. While these drugs can be helpful in the short term, chronic pain sufferers are more likely to become addicted to the medications, which, according to, actually cause a change in your brain chemistry that is not under your control.

How pain killers work

To understand the risk of addiction, it’s important to understand how opiates act in the body. These pain killers, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, work by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, found in the brain, spinal cord and other organs in the body. Once attached, opioids reduce the perception of pain, and sometimes even cause a euphoric response. Opioids can cause physical dependence due to the body’s adaptation to the drug, which means you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping the medication. This dependence can be joined by addiction, which is distinguished by “compulsive drug seeking and use despite sometimes devastating consequences.”

The prevalence of addiction

Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called attention to opioid addiction crisis earlier this year at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.

“We have nearly 250 million prescriptions for opioids written every year,” he said. “That’s enough for every person in America to have a bottle of pills and then some.”

At the summit, President Barack Obama added that today, more Americans die of opioid overdoses than of traffic accidents. This sobering reality has had a ripple effect through the medical community. In an attempt to address the issue, earlier this year the CDC released new guidelines for opioid prescriptions, urging doctors to use more caution and consider alternatives before prescribing narcotic pain killers.

The back pain-opioid connection

As the most common form of chronic pain, back pain sufferers are particularly at risk for opioid addiction. Mark Shelley DC DACNB, of Sound Pain Solutions says many of its patients come to the clinics after seeing a laundry list of doctors and specialists due to back pain. Most either prescribe drugs to mask the symptoms or recommend back surgery.

To compound the problem Dr. Shelley says, “The research shows that 10 to 40 percent of all back surgeries result in Failed Back Surgery Syndrome, meaning the patient has the same or worse pain following surgery,” he said. “And a quarter of the patients need to have another surgery – resulting in more opioid prescriptions.”

Alternative pain management

Kevin Polzin, DC at Sound Pain Solutions frequently treats patients experiencing chronic back pain. As part of that treatment, Polzin looks well beyond narcotic pain killers.
“At our clinics, we use a comprehensive treatment that includes state-of-the-art, nonsurgical decompression, high dose laser and dynamic rehabilitation therapies to actually heal damaged discs,” he said. “Most of our patients are able to drop the prescriptions and all the hazards that come along with them.”

Seeking help

Dropping those prescriptions — and the risks they bring with them — is no small feat, but according to these specialists, it’s absolutely doable. One Sound Pain Solutions patient recalled, “My pain started over 30 years ago, 15 years ago I started using hydrocodone… I routinely took six pills each day and sometimes would take the maximum dosage they would allow of eight per day. Since starting treatment I’m using less than 10 percent of the medication I did before.” Richard D. Leone, DC adds, “We see a really high success rate with our patients’ chronic back and neck pain and they are almost always able to avoid the risks of back surgery.”

Sound Pain Solutions has three Puget Sound region clinics in Edmonds, Bellevue and Tacoma.


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Chronic pain sufferers at high risk of opioid addiction