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With more than two million Americans dependent on opioids, it is crucial that people are able to control their pain in order to heal, but it is equally important that their recovery is not comprised by taking medication that is similar to those that they were previously addicted to.

According to the NPR article “How Do Former Opioid Addicts Safely Get Pain Relief After Surgery?”, approximately 1.5 million Americans were treated for addiction to prescription opioids or heroin in 2015.  How to safely manage the pain of these people when they get seriously hurt or need surgery, is often not clear, even to doctors.  The article describes how some doctors believe that surgeons and anesthesiologists should have access to a specialist in dependency and addiction, even before surgery or treatment of a recovering addict takes place. and then manage their care accordingly.  They compare this approach to how they would treat a patient with diabetes, in which they would consult an endocrinologist; addiction should be no different.

For those recovering from opioid addiction, to control such pain, there are common, effective, non-narcotic pain medications that they can turn to.  As stated on The Hills Treatment Center website (https://www.thehillscenter.com/addiction-blog/non-narcotic-pain-meds/), these medications include Paracetamol, which is helpful for mild chronic pain, is non-addictive and available over the counter; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin; and antidepressants, which aren’t an obvious solution to pain, but can be a helpful tool in pain management.

There are also several newer options to control pain that are extremely helpful, such as radiofrequency ablation, pain shots, and holistic approaches.  Radiofrequency ablation involves a heated needle being placed close to a nerve ending to eliminate pain signals.  Pain shots include either anesthetic or steroid injections.  Holistic methods, like acupuncture, massage therapy or yoga can all be successful in reducing chronic pain, especially when they become part of a regular routine.

Furthermore, a ScienceDaily article, “Treating acute pain in opioid-dependent patients,” states that a treatment plan for managing the pain of a recovering opioid addict must be multifaceted, to account for their medical and psychological background, physical and emotional status, and previous pain and injury experience.  Healthcare practitioners can utilize psychological tools for pain management, including respectful and caring behavior, relaxation and imagery techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy, which can reduce the need for pain medications.  Treatment may also include several types of medications to control their acute pain, but it is important to start with the lowest dose possible and adjust appropriately until the patient’s pain is manageable.

With such a staggering number of people addicted to opioids, many because of prescribed pain medications after surgery or injury, it is apparent that healthcare professionals need to take some responsibility and play a much larger role in ending this epidemic.  By being more mindful of what types of medications they prescribe to all patients and monitoring their progress, as well as working closely with patient’s other physicians in a more holistic approach to their care, hopefully, this crisis can be controlled and we can see a great reduction in the number of deaths due to opioid abuse.