What is the best way to treat opiate addiction, especially given that it is now reaching epidemic status in terms of how it is affecting teens in the U.S.? Healthline says that “the very nature of our healthcare system is part of the culprit.”
Why is our healthcare system part of the problem? CBS News says that “Prescriptions for opioids have nearly quadrupled since 1999.”
In other words, at some point, the hospitals and emergency rooms started trying to be more competitive, and they wanted very desperately to make their patients satisfied, and so they started asking them about their services. And one of the things that they would ask is “where you in pain?” And “was your pain properly addressed while you were at our hospital?”
And because of those types of questions, the health care industry started to shift a bit. It shifted from the doctor’s deciding how much pain was tolerable over to the patient getting to decide how much pain was tolerable. And you can guess what the patients will say if you ask them how much pain is acceptable for them to be suffering through.
The truth is that 30 years ago, people were not exactly dying from excessive pain all the time. People were not exactly outraged and miserable back in the old days. But that is the premise upon which we are so happily medicating people today with mountains of opiate prescriptions.
People expect to get a prescription for pain pills for just about any condition these days. They have come to expect it for the slightest little bit of pain.
This attitude of entitlement, combined with the willingness of doctors and hospitals and health care systems to give the prescription, is at the root of the problem.
The same opiates existed in the past (well, there are a few new ones, but stuff like morphine has been around for quite some time). The drugs themselves are not the problem. We have always had powerful opiate medications. The problem is our attitude towards pain management.
If you want to get specific, one way to do so is to consider the traditional pain scale. What is your current pain level on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 10 being the worst pain you have ever felt in your life?
When you ask a patient that question, you should expect to be giving strong opiate medications for people who say 9, 10, maybe even 8 and 7. But realistically we are now giving out opiate based prescriptions to people who are in the 3 to 6 range on the pain scale.
In other words, our expectations have shifted. It used to be that, as a society, and as health care experts, we believed that it was right to medicate a pain level of 7 and higher (these are just example numbers, but you get the general idea here).
Today we are expecting to medicate anyone with a score of 3 or higher.
The expectation has shifted. Today’s typical health care patient expects that technology and the advancement of medicine should fix all of their problems. We believe that we should not have to suffer, that we should be able to feel no pain at all, simply because technology should fix it for us. So the problem is one of expectation, of entitlement.
A similar idea exists in terms of treating addiction itself. Many people believe that if they had “celebrity level wealth” that they could afford to go to the very best treatment center and essentially get their addiction all but cured.
The truth is that we don’t have some secret advanced treatment method that can cure addiction for the super wealthy. The same techniques exist at pretty much all treatment centers, with no one have a secret method that beats all the others. That just isn’t the case.
Pain management is in a similar state today. There hasn’t been a huge breakthrough that allows us to take away people’s pain without all of the risks and side effects that come along with heavy opiate use.
That might be changing soon, as there are currently some new medications on the horizon that are undergoing testing phases right now. These new medications act like opiates and they reduce pain without producing the euphoria that is typically associated with opiates. As such, they are theorizing that such pain medication will not be addictive, but the jury is still out as to how these new medications will ultimately perform for us.
The world wants a magic pill that can take away all of our pain and not have any harmful or risky side effects that come along for the ride. Currently that is not something that exists, thought we may be on the cusp of such a breakthrough.
If you happen to be addicted to opiates and you also have chronic pain issues, there is hope. My best suggestion for you is to check into an inpatient treatment center and go through medical detox. This is probably easier than you think it is, because detox centers now have medications that they can give you that are quite helpful in terms of mitigating withdrawal symptoms.
The follow up to this would be to do a couple of things. One, you would need to start building a life in recovery, one that does not revolve around self medicating all the time. Two, you would want to figure out how to deal with your chronic pain issue in a way that does not destroy your life with addictive substances. This is possible for anyone, but only if you have the right mindset.
Again, refer back to the “entitlement mindset” in which we expect that even a pain level of 3 or 4 on the pain scale would be completely erased by modern medicine and new drugs. This is not realistic, and this is an attitude that will lead you back to addiction.
Instead, you need the mindset that says “I can live a good life and be happy even if I have some pain, but I will do everything I can to figure out how to treat that pain in healthy ways that are not self destructive.” That might mean going to a pain clinic, getting massage therapy on a regular basis, buying a hot tub, or a number of other alternative therapies.
In other words, you may need to do some exploration in order to find what works well for your chronic pain other than opiates. It is not right to expect for a magic pill to solve all of your problems. If that is your mindset then you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, you need to be realistic and start testing new ideas for ways to treat your pain.
My sponsor in NA has to do about 45 minutes of exercises every day when he wakes up in order to deal with his chronic pain issues. He says this is a small price to pay for a life well lived in recovery. I would tend to agree.