How Bad is the Problem?
About 20 years ago, with one quarter of Americans having chronic pain, the US government declared a war on pain. Unfortunately, it gave physicians absolutely no guidance on how to relieve pain effectively. So, with drug company encouragement, physicians turned to increasingly prescribing narcotics.
Now we have one third of Americans suffering with chronic pain, and nearly 17,000 overdose deaths per year from prescribed narcotics. 5000 of these are from people using them as directed by their physician. The rest are from diversion to street use, or from combining them with illegal opioids like heroin. These are the actual figures from research.
The government has decided to deal with this by declaring a “War on People in Pain.” Narcotic medications are being stopped abruptly, with people given no alternatives for pain relief. Sometimes, all they are getting from their physicians is the attitude “All pain is tolerable, as long as it is somebody else’s!”
Meanwhile, the propaganda war is ratcheting up with blame being fixed, instead of the problem. Instead of the nearly 17,000 yearly deaths from prescribed narcotics being discussed, the government is lumping in all deaths from even street drugs like heroin to inflate the figures and justify their actions.
So, let’s take a step back, and get some perspective on the real numbers:
- Nearly 17,000 yearly deaths from prescribed narcotics 1. 5000 from prescribed narcotics used as directed and not combined with other illegal drugs 1b. The biggest culprits have been the fentanyl patch and OxyContin.
- 30,000 to 50,000 US deaths yearly (conservatively) from NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Despite this being shown in numerous studies, including a major meta-analysis of almost 500,000 patients which showed a 35% increase in MI risk 2 and as many as 16,500 bleeding ulcer deaths yearly 3, I suspect that few of you have heard about the research. Why? As one news editor put it very simply “any reporter who loses me an advertiser is fired!” I do want to stress, that the chronic pain is still far more toxic than the NSAIDs medications. It’s simply that natural options are usually more effective, and much safer, in head on studies.
- About 30,000 to 40,000 US deaths a year from PPI acid blocker medications 4. Ironically often given for no reason except that the person is on NSAIDs (these numbers are in addition to the NSAIDs deaths). These are also associated with a 44% higher risk of dementia 5.
- In a recent survey 6.7% of people with chronic pain note they have thoughtfully reflect[ed] upon suicide:
- 89 persons shared the story of a friend or family member who ended their life
- Seventy percent (70%) report that their health care has either worsened or they have lost support entirely.
- Twenty-five (25%) of individuals have lost access to a primary care provider 6.
- About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.7
All of this suggests that the current ill-designed war on prescribed narcotics may cause far more deaths by collateral damage than it prevents. It suggests that as many as 7 million additional Americans face the risk of suicide from unabated pain, in an effort to prevent 5000 prescribed narcotic overdose deaths yearly. You can be certain that the suicides will be ignored in making public policy.
Surprisingly, increased NSAIDs use from the anti-narcotic policy may even be more toxic than the narcotics. Meanwhile, numerous people may turn to illicit drugs for pain relief, which carry a higher risk of overdose, as they have no idea what’s in what they are taking.
The answer is not to either ignore the overdose deaths or the suffering of those with chronic pain. There is a third option, which can effectively address both, that is being largely ignored.
Treat the root causes of pain.
Our research has shown that this can dramatically decrease pain and improve function without narcotics. Using fibromyalgia as a model, our placebo-controlled study showed that pain can be decreased doing so by 50%. A very large percent of people no longer qualified as having fibromyalgia by the end of the study 9.
Using the entire toolkit, including structural therapies (such as physical therapy and chiropractic) low-cost generic medications, and natural remedies, most pain can be effectively controlled, and often eliminated, without narcotics. But most physicians are simply not trained in, or even open to, these options.”
It is time to look for door number three in addressing these major problems.
Yikes! Chronic pain is indeed a global issue. Join us next week as we discuss NATURAL ways to alleviate your pain.