Let’s use TENS units before painkiller misuse triples

If more doctors recommended TENS units and more people used them, fewer people might be prescribed opioids and risk developing a dependence on them. As it is, though, misuse of prescription painkillers by American adults more than doubled from the early 2000s to 2013, according to a new government study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Moreover, rates of addiction to strong painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin also increased during that period, according to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “The increasing misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers poses a myriad of serious public health consequences,” director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse Dr. Nora Volkow said.

“These (consequences) include increases in opioid use disorders and related fatalities from overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of newborns who experience neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Volkow added. Furthermore, prescription opioid misuse can degenerate into injected heroin use – in turn increasing the risk of infections such as HIV and hepatitis C from needle-sharing.  The rate of adults who reported non-medical use of opioids at some point in their lives went up from 4.7% to more than 11% during the study period. Additionally, 2.1 million Americans met the criteria for prescription opioid use disorder or opioid addiction, in 2012-2013.

However, that doesn’t mean they started out as straight dope fiends. More than likely they were prescribed these drugs to deal with chronic pain and, like the man said, “used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do so the little got more and more.” That’s why it is important to explore drug-free, non-addictive approaches like TENS units. Unfortunately, not only do most healthcare providers rely on opioids as a default treatment, there seldom is follow-up treatment for the damage the original treatment causes. Only about 5% of adults who misused prescription painkillers in the last year and 17% of those with prescription opioid addiction ever receive treatment.

More than 4% of adults reported non-medical use of addictive opioids in 2012-2013 – that is, they took the drug in greater doses, or for longer, or more often, than prescribed by a physician. A decade ago, less than 2% of adults reported similar behaviors. Prescription opioid misuse rates were highest among men, people with annual incomes of less than $70,000, those previously married, people with a high school education or lower, whites, Native Americans, and people living in the Midwest and West. “Given the dramatic increase in nonmedical use of prescription opioids, it is important that clinicians and patients also recognize the potent interaction of opioids with alcohol and other sedative-hypnotic drugs -- an interaction that can be lethal,” George Koob, director of NIAAA, said.

Related: Tips for healthcare providers who prescribe opioid painkillers