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Understanding Painkiller Addiction: Exploring Alternatives for Chronic Pain Management

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By, Beverly Skloss MSN, RN ~ Corporate Director of Nursing

acupuctureAs nurses working in the field of addiction know, the presence of chronic pain can significantly prevent our clients from focusing on their recovery and experiencing the everyday joys of living. Many individuals arrive at Origins Behavioral Healthcare to receive treatment after taking prescription opioid medications long-term that they didn’t realized were highly addictive such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.


Prescription drug misuse is often accidental since the pain actually gets worse the longer the opiates are used. Individuals may try to maintain the drug’s pain-relieving effects by upping the dose or turning to alcohol. The authors of a 2016 study entitled “Primary Care Patients with Drug Use Report Chronic Pain and Self-Medicate with Alcohol and Other Drugs,” published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, surveyed over 25,000 people and found that 81 percent of the 121 people who reported prescription opioid misuse did so to treat their pain.


Clients like these often come to us with very high liver values. Many of the opioid pain medications easiest to obtain through pain management physicians generally include high amounts of acetaminophen, which is exceptionally bad for the liver.


Unfortunately, we also see clients whose initial preference for opioid pain medications in pill form has evolved into a heroin addiction since the two drugs are chemically very similar. According to 2012 findings by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2.1 million Americans experienced the effects of a substance use disorder related to prescription opioid painkillers, with nearly a half-million more afflicted by heroin addiction. Heroin, which is often cheaper, can become a viable alternative. Individuals who began taking a few Vicodin for back pain and never would have ever considered something like IV heroin find they have an addiction.


With professional help, however, it is quite possible to stop the vicious and dangerous cycle of substance use disorder in relation to chronic pain. At Origins, we treat chronic pain holistically through self-care practices and coping skills including exercise, nutrition, spirituality, and other specialized services. Our chronic pain management continuum of care adopts a multidisciplinary approach that includes:


  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Spiritual exploration
  • Behavioral medicine
  • Alternative therapies


The Origins medical staff oversees each patient’s chronic pain management treatment plan to ensure optimum comfort. This approach empowers individuals to embrace new activities they can easily maintain on their own after formal care concludes. The ultimate goal of chronic pain management is to enable the patient to embrace and maintain a healthy lifestyle, free of any addictive medications.


As nurses, it’s also important to note that post-surgical relapse is a real risk for those in recovery from addiction. We must caution our clients to ensure that every person on their medical team understands their addiction should they ever require surgery. All narcotic medications for acute pain must tapered properly and patients will need extra support and help monitoring medication dosage following surgery.


For more information regarding the many programs of Origins Behavioral HealthCare please