Opioid Prescription Rates – This is Why You Should Try PT First

Prescription Rates For Opioids Are Decreasing While Rates For Non-opioids Prescriptions Are Increasing

Try as we might, it’s nearly impossible to avoid pain altogether. Whether it’s twisted ankle or a sore neck, we all experience pain at one point or another, which is why pain is by far the most common reason people seek out health care. But treating pain—especially long-lasting, or chronic pain—is rarely easy or straightforward. Treatment often requires a multifaceted approach due to the numerous variables that contribute to a patient’s perception of pain and response to treatment.

The use of opioids to treat pain has long been controversial. Some patients, such as those with terminal illnesses and those who are on end-of-life care, may require opioids due to the extreme amount of pain they are in. Opioids may also be appropriate for a limited period for certain short-lived (acute) painful conditions; however, it’s not clear if they are also effective for patients with chronic pain. But this has not stopped medical professionals from prescribing these drugs for all types of conditions.

Starting in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, opioids were prescribed on a major scale to individuals dealing with both acute and chronic pain. Over the years, prescribing these drugs has become a standard practice that many doctors assumed was safe and effective, even though there has always been a lack of high-quality research on the benefits and harms of opioids. As a result, opioids have been overprescribed for far too long, and at least 400,000 people have died of an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2017.

The CDC Recommended Prescribing Changes for Pain Meds

The epidemic has brought light to the situation and raised questions about prescribing these drugs to patients in pain, and professional organizations like the CDC have therefore provided guidelines on when and how to give prescriptions, and what else can be done to address this problem. One of the central messages that has been stressed by healthcare leaders in various positions is that physical therapy should be utilized as a first-line treatment and an alternative to opioids for managing pain. Here are some examples:

  • In August 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General at the time, Vivek Murthy, MD sent a letter to 2.3 million medical professionals to address the opioid epidemic provide a call to action to end it. The letter was combined with an infographic to assist these professionals in the prescription of opioids, and one of the central recommendations made was to consider non-opioid therapies first, with physical therapy being listed as an important alternative.
  • A task force made up of experts in various medical fields was created to establish guidelines for managing pain and the role of opioids in the process. One of the key guidelines was that restorative therapies like physical therapy should be a central component of patient care. It points out that these therapies play a significant role in managing acute and chronic pain, and that positive patient outcomes are more likely when they are used.
  • In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided a set of evidence-based recommendations for opioid prescriptions, stating that opioids should only be prescribed when the expected benefits outweigh the risks, and nonopioid pain treatment should be prescribed instead of, or in addition to opioids. Physical therapy is mentioned among the nonopioid and nonpharmacologic therapies recommended because evidence shows that it can alleviate chronic pain.

What are the Non-opioid Prescriptions Doing to Consumers?

The CDC’s 2016 recommendations for opioid prescriptions prompted researchers to investigate whether prescription patterns changed since their release, and a study on their findings was published in 2022. Researchers found that patterns did in fact change significantly from 2012 to 2018. In 2012, the prevalence of opioid prescriptions was approximately equal to that of non-opioid medication prescriptions, but by 2018, there were about 50% more prescriptions for nonopioids than opioids. This suggests that many healthcare professionals have been following the CDC’s guidelines by prescribing opioids cautiously. However, the increases in non-opioid prescribing were much higher than expected, and the decreases in opioid prescribing were not completely offset by these increases.

Further research is therefore necessary to determine if the use of nonpharmacologic treatments like physical therapy also increased during this period, but these findings are good news nonetheless, as they show that opioid are not being prescribed nearly as frequently as they once were, which is saving many patients from future issues with dependence and addiction.

Before Any Drugs, You Should See One of Our Physical Therapists First

There is a place for medication. However, often medications don’t work, can be abused, or have terrible side effects.  Given that physical therapy is as effective for most muscle and joint pain diagnoses, it only makes sense that you contact us first at one of our two locations, to see if we can help…and permanently end your pain.

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