The way doctors are getting rid of pain is changing to try and curb the nation’s opioid epidemic – a public health issue that hasn’t lost any steam – even in the Central Valley.
Over the last couple of years, leading health institutions and organizations have issued guidelines and recommendations detailing how health professionals need to regroup and stop turning to opioids to treat pain.
KSEE24’s Dennis Valera explores the question: Is this the right path for treatment to take?
In 2015, more than 24 million opioid prescriptions for things like hydrocodone, methadone and oxycontin were filled out statewide.
Here in our part of the Central Valley, we made up a little more than 1.5 million of those prescriptions, according to numbers from the California Health Care Foundation.
The goal for many doctors and other health professionals is to get those numbers down.
Nearly 2,000 Californians died in 2015 due to overdoses
A doctor KSEE24 spoke to says weaning society off of opioids is necessary. A chronic pain patient advocate, however, who has an extensive history with pain treatment, says opioids are getting out of reach from those who are suffering.
Sharon Mosebar has suffered multiple injuries over the years. Recently she injured her back when she fell at her house.
“I try to make sure I don’t pick up anything heavy, [so I can] get back to my routine activities,” Mosebar said. “My husband and I, we’re very active.”
To get rid of her back pain, she went to Dr. Rasheed Amireh. Under his care, she has yet to get an opioid prescription – instead getting a steroid injection to her spinal nerves to reduce her back pain.
“There was no pain medication; it was just the epidural,” Mosebar said.
The only kind of medications she took were non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) ones – pain relievers that are available by prescription and over the counter.
“I felt like I was back to my normal self. It took the inflammation down in my back,” Mosebar said.
When treating pain, doctors have been recommending other treatment options than opioids as more and more people abuse the drugs.
Nearly 2,000 Californians died in 2015 due to overdoses. Numbers from the California Health Care Foundation show more than 100 of those deaths occurred in our part of the Central Valley.
The epidemic has caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue guidelines back in March 2016 to curb opioid use.
A few months ago, the American College of Physicians published new back pain treatment guidelines recommending alternatives like yoga and massages over opioids.
“All the medication, regardless what the patient is taking, all of these medication are associated with sometimes serious side effect,” Dr. Amireh said.
It’s the rationale Amireh takes on why he prescribes opioids when none of his other treatments work. He specializes in interventional pain management – pain treatment using invasive methods like injections and nerve stimulation.
He likes to explore options with his patients to figure out the best treatment without having to pop an opioid pill.
“All of these approaches – all of these injections – is mainly to control the pain and avoid” the patient from becoming dependent on medication.
Liz Helms, president and CEO of the California Chronic Care Coalition
, is worried about the limiting access of opioids. The organization aims to help Californians with chronic conditions get the necessary and proper care.
She’s had extensive experience using them to relieve traumatic pain from her temporomandibular joint disorder and a herniated and ruptured disc in her back.
She says the doctor-patient relationship is key to making sure opioid abuse is prevented.
“Yes, there is addiction. And I cannot say I wasn’t addicted. I came off of them because I worked with my doctor as a team on how to come off of them after being on them for so long,” Helms said.
"We villainize the physicians, and we villainize the patients that need them. We are doing something wrong with society."
By strengthening that relationship, she said it will help prevent doctors from being afraid of prescribing these drugs out of fear a patient could be addicted.
It helps reduce the stigma of opioids, she said, which will help get it to those who truly need it.
“We villainize the physicians, and we villainize the patients that need them. We are doing something wrong with society,” Helms said. “In the use of pain management, the doctor needs to be well-informed that the patient is only working with him or her and that patient is following the directions of the doctor explicitly.”
While Amireh tries to leave them as a last resort, he said if he finds a diagnosis calls for it, he will use opioids first.
Helms says for anyone experiencing pain: educating yourself and seeking professional help is the best way to ultimately get rid of the pain.