Opioid abuse and addiction has been on a steady increase for many years in the states and around the world.

In 2014 alone, US pharmacies dispensed 245 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, nearly enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.

Therapeutic alternatives such as physical therapy, have taken a backseat to the ease of doctors writing opioid prescriptions to treat chronic pain. Here we take a closer look at specific causes to this epidemic, and potential alternatives that can curve this track behavior that has swept across our nation.

Acute or Chronic Pain

30% of American adults suffer from some form of acute or chronic pain, and that number jumps to 40% among older adults. It comes as no surprise that physicians prescribe opioid pain relievers to patients for short term pain relief and to improve function, however 3% – 4% (between 9.9 and 11.5 million patients) of the prescribed population are prescribed these medications for long term treatment. These patients would fall under the category of chronic pain, and the benefits of these long term prescriptions have been widely questioned.

There’s now no question that a great number of these opioid prescriptions are improperly administered and overused daily. 37%, or more than a third of the 44,000 drug overdose-deaths in 2013, were attributed to pharmaceutical opioids.

How Opioid Medications Become Abused

Prescription opioids affect the mu-opioid receptors in the brain which regulate pain perception. The medication calms the nerves in this “reward region” of the brain calming the effects of pain and giving the patient temporary relief, and often giving the feeling of euphoria and well-being. The more rapidly opioids are administered, the more rewarding the effects. This is why opioid abuse is often seen administered through injection, as this is the most rapid delivery method.

Physical Opioid Dependency vs. Opioid Addiction

Dependancy vs. Addiction

There is a fundamental difference between opioid dependence and opioid addiction, though many times they go hand and hand. Opioid dependency is the inevitable result of repeated use which increases tolerance and physical dependency. This can lead to increased dosage, as much as 10 times the initial dosage, to maintain the initial level of pain relief. The increased need and tolerance can be reversed fairly quickly once the administration of the opioid is ceased, depending on the type and frequency of the administration.

Opioid addiction occurs only in a small percentage of prescribed opioid users. It occurs slowly after months of exposure, and once a patient is addicted, the addiction becomes an illness within itself and even after discontinuation carries a high incidence of relapse. Addiction carries with it a mental dependency facet not primarily seen in physical dependency.

The Physical Therapy Alternative

Physical therapists work hard to educate patients and physicians on the benefits of prescribing physical therapy ahead of aggressive prescription opioid treatment plans. Physical therapy is widely considered a preferred treatment for acute and chronic pain, but is often a secondary alternative to opioid treatments.

Before you agree to a prescription for opioids, ask if physical therapy might be right for you.

#ChoosePT Today!

And #makePThappen for you!

To see how physical therapists here is Ohio combat Opioid addiction, watch this video: