The right and wrong way to manage chronic pain
If you live with severe chronic pain or love someone who does, you know how debilitating it can be.
More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain caused by medical conditions that include migraines, back pain, arthritis and other complex medical issues.
The effects of chronic pain can be crushing. In addition to lost worktime, those with chronic pain are at higher risk of depression, insomnia and loss of quality of life.
Ironically, while opioid pain relievers have long been a highly-effective medical tool for combating chronic pain, as awareness of the opioid crisis grows, it's become more difficult for patients who can truly benefit from pain-relieving narcotics to access them.
So how can patients struggling with chronic pain navigate today's challenging health care landscape to get the help they truly need?
A painful backlash to the opioid crisis
According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid drug overdoses have quadrupled over the last 15 years. More than 46 Americans die from prescription drug overdoses every day.
This has left physicians grappling to distinguish between patients with genuine health conditions and those seeking opioids for other purposes. Fearing legal sanctions, some doctors have become leery of prescribing narcotics altogether.
This is especially common in emergency rooms. When patients with chronic pain experience excruciating flare-ups, they often turn to their local ER for help. However, in this day and age, they're frequently met with suspicion, presumed to be illicit drug-seekers.
It's a frustrating, humiliating experience, coming at a particularly vulnerable time.
Even more frustrating: the percentage of people who become addicted to opioids prescribed for legitimate medical use is low. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 75 percent of opioid misuse stems from individuals taking meds prescribed for someone else, such as family members and friends.
A better way to manage chronic pain
These days, the best way to handle chronic pain is with a proactive, multidimensional approach that helps minimize flare-ups.
Patients should seek care from medical experts who are specifically trained to treat chronic pain -- aka, pain specialists.
In addition to conventional medical treatments, pain sufferers can experiment with lifestyle changes as advised by their specialist. Some patients report great relief from meditation, biofeedback and changes in diet and exercise. Patients are often encouraged to join support groups or keep a daily pain journal.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. The reality is, it's difficult to find the energy to seek help when you're in ongoing pain.
Those who are lucky have family members who'll do the initial legwork. Those who don't might consider hiring a patient advocate to go to bat for them. (Pain management is an issue that patient advocates are handling on an increasingly-frequent basis.)
Either way, the most important thing is to get expert help. Why grin and bear it when solutions are out there?
• Teri Dreher, RN, CCRN, iRNPA, BCPA, is an award-winning RN patient advocate and a pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is owner/founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy company in the Chicago area. She was awarded her industry's highest honor, The APHA H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award. She is among the first in her industry to earn the credential of Board Certified Patient Advocate. Her 2016 book, "Patient Advocacy Matters," is now in its second printing.