TENS units and the fight against prescription opioid abuse

Seriously, President Obama should speak about how TENS units can help in the fight against the prescription opioid abuse and heroin epidemic at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. But he probably won’t – or didn’t, by the time this is published. Nor will – or did – President of the Young People in Recovery Justin Luke Riley ask about it. At this summit – which is not the drug equivalent of the Players Ball – the President is set to announce a series of Administration actions “to expand access to treatment, prevent overdose deaths and increase community prevention strategies,” according to a White House press release, which goes on to say that “these actions build on the President’s proposal for $1.1 billion in new funding to help every American with an opioid use disorder who wants treatment get the help they need.”

More than $1 billion dollars could help buy a lot of inexpensive TENS units, but nobody ever points that out. Instead, the President will – or has – announce – or announced – the following initiatives:

·         Expanding Access to Treatment.

·         Establishing a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force.

·         Implementing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity in Medicaid.

·         Preventing Opioid Overdose Deaths.

·         Expanding Public Health-Public Safety Partnerships to Combat the Spread of Heroin.

·         Investing in Community Policing to Address Heroin.

·         Tackling Substance Use Disorders in Rural Communities.

·         Implementing Syringe Services Programs.

That’s all well and good and no one is implying that electrotherapy can take the place of all of those measures – the place where electricity can cure addiction is in Stephen King’s Revival. In case of an opioid overdose, a first responder is not going to pull out a TENS 7000 to save the day. Which is why it is important that the “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is releasing a new $11 million funding opportunity to states to purchase and distribute the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone,” Melanie Garunay writes in the WhiteHouse.gov blog, “a prescription drug that can reverse the effects of prescription opioid and heroin overdose, and can be life-saving if administered in time.”

On the other hand, increasing access to a buprenorphine for medication-assisted treatment is sort of fighting fire with fire, isn’t? True, “when taken as prescribed, buprenorphine is safe and effective,” but aren’t all prescription drugs supposed to be? By all means, let’s increase “the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients,” especially since “evidence shows that this lifesaving, evidence-based treatment is under-utilized.”  But let’s look into approaches to treat chronic and acute pain that are drug-free in the first place, such as TENS units, as well. It wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot – in fact, the whole point is that it doesn’t hurt.

Once again, there is no implication here that electrotherapy is a panacea of some kind. Nor is this an attempt to make light of the situation – it is indeed a very serious matter, which is why we should leave no stone unturned. On a final note, Saturday, April 30th is DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day – that’s take-back, not give-away – during which people will be able to dispose of unneeded prescription medications safely, conveniently, and responsibly.

Related: Tips for healthcare providers who prescribe opioid painkillers