physician and patientThe overwhelming opioid epidemic has understandably sounded alarms within the medical community and garnered attention on a nationwide level. In fact, the FDA and other government agencies are stepping in to take action in an effort to combat the situation that has developed in relation to opioid abuse and consequent deaths. Is there anything you can do as a patient to help fight this epidemic to save lives?

It is important to stress that not every doctor is guilty of over-prescribing and the majority of pain patients are not drug-seeking individuals who intend to abuse and/or misuse their prescriptions. Most pain sufferers simply want relief from their torment and help in restoring their ability to function. For those who suffer from chronic pain, serious injuries, severe disabilities, and/or other debilitating conditions, this goal can be a significant daily challenge. However, the very dimensions of the epidemic should compel patients and the medical community as a whole to seek out other, alternative treatment options.

Given that 64,000 people died of drug overdose in the year 2016, we all have a role to play. Clinicians are exploring a wide variety of treatment options that may provide relief without the serious risks of opioid medications. These include advanced, minimally invasive interventional procedures, nerve blocks, ablation procedures and neuromodulation. The latter refers to implanted spinal or peripheral nerve stimulators which are now getting smaller with remote, external power source or generators. Some, you can control with your smartphone.

Are you a candidate for such a neurostimulator device? Other nerve blocks, and procedures? Could you benefit from additional physical therapy – either traditional physical therapy or aquatic therapy. Pain medications do not have to mean opioids only. We now have a wide source of non-opioid pain medications and newer ones are added frequently. These include traditional and newer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), nerve pain medications like some antidepressant and some anti-seizure medications. Although any such drug can result in serious side effects and drug interactions, generally their safety profile is many times better than those of the opioids.

Change is always a challenge but often necessary – even life saving. Next time you see your physician, discuss interventional and other options. If you have been on opioid medications for a long time, now may be the right time to re-assess whether these are still effective or safe for you. If you have not done so, seek a referral to a properly qualified interventional pain physician who may be able to employ modalities discussed above.

It is never too late to do something actively to stay safe — and alive.