How can TENS units help fight a prescription opioid epidemic?

TENS units are used to relieve the symptoms of conditions such as back pain. A study published in the American Society of Anesthesiologists journal Anesthesiology in July suggested that people with chronic back pain are more likely to abuse prescription opioid painkillers. Ergo, favoring electrotherapy devices over pain medication can help fight – though of course not fully eradicate – what researchers are calling a prescription opioid epidemic. How? Because units such as the TENS 3000 or TENS 7000 have few if any adverse side effects and, more importantly, do not cause addiction.

A new study published in JAMA reports that although non-medical use of prescription painkillers in American adults has decreased between 2003 and 2013, disorders, frequency of use, and deaths related to these drugs have increased. You’d certainly be hard pressed to find deaths related to the use of TENS units. On the other hand, the number of deaths stemming from prescription opioid disorders in 2013 alone (16,200) surpassed that of deaths resulting from the combination of all illicit drugs (14,774). Dr. Beth Han from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, MD led a team that examined data from over 470,000 participants in the 2003-2013 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in order to establish national trends in and traits of non-medical prescription opioid use and use disorders, as well as the national trend in related mortality.

Some of the findings included the following:

·         Dependence on prescription opioids increased from .4% to .6% in people older than 12 years of age in the 2003-2013 period.

·         Between 2004 and 2011, visits to the Associated Emergency Department went from 82.5 to 184.1 per 100,000.

·         From 1999 to 2013, deaths related to prescription opioids increased from 1.4 to 5.1 per 100,000.

·         Between 2003 and 2013, drug overdose rates linked to prescription painkillers rose from 4.5 to 7.8 per 100,000.

The authors of the study defined non-medical use as “use without a prescription or [...] with a prescription, simply for the experience or feeling caused by opioids.” People can use prescription drugs without a prescription if they buy them from drug dealers, steal them, or get them from friends and relatives. But abuse can occur even if they are prescribed by a doctor for a diagnosed pain syndrome. This is where TENS units can make a difference, if only more patients and physicians were to consider them as a viable alternative – after all, it’s not like these devices aren’t widely available at affordable prices at Discount Medical Supplies. As Dr. Lewis Nelson of the New York University School of Medicine wrote in an accompanying editorial, “the chronic, relapsing nature of opioid addiction means most patients are never 'cured,' and the best outcome is long-term recovery. The lifelong implications of this disease far outweigh the limited benefits of opioids in the treatment of chronic pain, and in many cases the risks inherent in the treatment of acute pain with opioids.”

Related: Electrotherapy Side Effects: TENS 7000 vs. Pain Medication