Another reason to use rehab and pain management supplies

Using rehab and pain management supplies instead of prescription painkillers – whenever applicable, of course – could not only help prevent opioid addiction and overdose deaths, but also heart-related deaths and other fatalities. According to a new study, out of 45,000 adult Medicaid patients in Tennessee from 1999 to 2012, those who took prescription opioids had a 64% higher risk of dying within 6 months of beginning treatment than those who took other pain medication. Eighteen percent of deaths among users of painkillers were attributed to accidental overdoses, compared to 8% of the other subjects. Prescription opioids like hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine can decrease breathing and worsen breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, which may result in irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, or sudden death.

 And that’s not counting illegal drugs like heroine. “As bad as people think the problem of opioid use is, it’s probably worse,” lead author and a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University’s medical school Wayne Ray said. “They should be a last resort and particular care should be exercised for patients who are at cardiovascular risk.” That’s where alternative approaches like rehab and pain management supplies come in. TENS units, for instance, help manage chronic pain virtually without side effects and without the risk of developing addiction.  Unfortunately, many doctors prescribe opioids as if by default without stopping to consider whether or not other protocols might be helpful.

The patients in the study – published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – were prescribed medications for chronic symptoms cause by back pain and arthritis. Half of the subjects were administered long-acting opioids such as controlled-release oxycodone, methadone, and fentanyl skin patches. This class of painkillers remains longer in the body – extended exposure may increase the risk of toxic reactions. The rest of the patients were prescribed gabapentin and other non-opioid medications, as well as antidepressants often used for pain.

Of the patients using opioids, 187 died, as opposed to 87 deaths in the other group. The authors of the study reached the conclusion that there was one excess death for every 145 patients on opioids compared to deaths among patients on other painkillers. Director of pain research at the University of Michigan Health System Dr. Chad Brummet complimented the study for highlighting risks from drugs in an innovative way and emphasizing the reasons for limiting their use. “We’ve sounded the alarm over and over again,” he said. “We still have a major cultural shift ahead of us.”

Related: How can TENS units help fight a prescription opioid epidemic?