How Opioid Addiction Is Shaping Pain Management
Matthew Braun, a medical student at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, along with other students and healthcare professionals, has turned their battles with addiction, chronic pain, and issues with prescribing opioids into an opportunity for education, hope, and change. A recent National Public Radio (NPR) article on Braun and others highlights how their individual experiences will help them care for future patients and how the opioid epidemic is shaping pain management.
Stories of Addiction and Chronic Pain
Like millions of Americans, Braun was introduced to opioids after getting a prescription for pain after surgery. He recalls, “The first time I ever used an opioid, I felt the most confident and powerful I’d ever felt (NPR, 2019).” Opioids took away his anxiety and inhibitions and he quickly noticed that they were easy to get, “I just started breaking into houses. I found it amazing how trusting people were in leaving windows open and doors unlocked – and I found a lot of prescriptions,” Braun states.
At the time of his addiction (over a decade ago), many doctors and dentists were overprescribing pain medications, “I didn’t need 20 Vicodin when I got my wisdom teeth out. So I just saved them,” he admits. Now as a medical student and ten years sober, Braun wants to use his experience with addiction to help patients. At a two-day summit in Yakima, Washington, Braun, other medical students, and several healthcare professionals are sharing their stories on addiction, chronic pain, and patient care to create a better culture around pain management and reduce stigma.
Katie Buckman, a medical student at Pacific Northwest University, also discussed her battle with migraines. Buckman’s migraines have become less intense over time due to a new preventative drug; however, she recalls the shame and stigma left from her experiences as a chronic pain sufferer, “One time I had a doc and before he even came in and introduced himself as my caregiver, he just popped his head in and said, ‘Well, you’re not going to be receiving any narcotics today.’”
Tom Eglin, a faculty member at the university and an emergency room physician at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital in Yakima, faces many challenges when it comes to prescribing pain medication to patients. On the one hand, he sees many overdoses from prescription meds, and on the other hand, he sees patients who are clearly in need of an opioid, “They may have excruciating pain from a kidney stone, a fracture, or a bad burn. Pain is the primary reason that people come to the emergency department.”
Changing the Conversation on Opioid Addiction and Pain Management
Buckman, Braun, Eglin, and others at the summit did share a common belief that “People addicted to opioids and people in chronic pain have a lot in common: Both groups face stigma, often struggle to get treatment, and need doctors who understand their problem (NPR).” Eglin feels that maybe doctors need to start looking at patients a little differently when it comes to pain, “Whether they’re addicted or whether they’re a migraine sufferer, they are still there for pain relief. And most people who are addicted still have the perception of bad pain.” Through summits such as the one at Pacific Northwest University, medical students like Braun and Buckman will be able to empathize at a different level with their patients because they either have experienced chronic pain or addiction. And current physicians will hopefully begin to look at pain and pain management differently and with more compassion.
Dealing With the Opioid Crisis Head On
The intersection between pain management and opioid regulation is a very complex and delicate area. Those in chronic pain need relief and compassion, but dealing with the misuse, addiction, and overdoses associated with the use of opioid medications poses major challenges. In response to these issues, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are focusing their efforts on several major priorities:
- Improving access to addiction treatment and recovery services and educating health professionals on how to manage chronic pain in adults with or in recovery from a substance use disorder (CDC).
- Supporting healthcare providers and health systems with information, tools, and guidance for evidence-based decision-making to improve opioid prescribing and patient safety.
- Promoting the use of overdose-reversing drugs (i.e., Narcan).
- Providing increased support for research on pain and addiction to inform healthcare practices, reduce opioid prescribing, and combat the opioid crisis.
- Advancing better practices for pain management, including alternative treatments and integrative approaches for managing pain.
- Educating the public of the epidemic through better public health campaigns and encouraging the safe collection and disposal of unused prescription drugs.
Despite the legitimate use of opioids for pain relief, these drugs also carry a high potential for addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction and needs help, please reach out to Silver Lining for a free consultation at (866) 448-4563. We offer individualized outpatient treatment programs, compassion, and support, and post-rehab care services such as 12-Step programs, SMART Recovery, and meditation classes to help conquer your addiction, heal, and get back to a healthy and happy drug-free life.