A new study from the Yale School of Medicine at Yale University found that chiropractic care has contributed to approximately a 49% reduction in opioid prescriptions issued in the United States. The opioid epidemic has become a huge problem. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people die in the United States of opioid overdoses every day. Medical expenses associated with opioid addiction and overdoses cost the country approximately $78.5 billion.
What Are the Findings from the Yale School of Medicine?
The Yale study results were presented at the American Academy of Pain Medicine’s 2019 annual meeting. Among the findings that the researchers announced included one that marks a milestone for chiropractors and their patients.
The researchers found that patients who had visited a chiropractor to alleviate musculoskeletal pain and conditions associated with it were 49% less likely to be prescribed opioid medications than people who sought care from other healthcare providers.
The gap between chiropractic care and traditional healthcare providers come as no surprise to people who understand chiropractic, which has always emphasized holistic and non-invasive treatment over drug prescriptions and surgeries.
The Yale researchers selected several studies that examined more than 60,000 patients for their analysis. The research was funded by the NCMIC Foundation and other organizations. The goal of the study was to compare the results of chiropractic treatment and mainstream medical treatment to see how their treatment of pain differed.
The results are certainly encouraging for chiropractors. They confirm what chiropractic patients have known for decades. Most people do not require addictive medications to alleviate pain, and in many cases, a course of chiropractic adjustments and treatments can be enough to minimize or eliminate pain and allow patients to return to their normal activities and lives.
What Do Clinical Guidelines Say?
As the opioid epidemic has become increasingly serious, both lawmakers and medical providers have been working to find solutions that help patients with serious pain issues while minimizing the risk of addiction.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has updated its prescription guidelines for opioid medications. Previously, the guidelines required caution only with high-risk patients. Now the guidelines:
- Encourage doctors to find non-pharmacological solutions for pain
- Recommend lower doses of opioids when they are deemed necessary for pain management
- Suggests risk assessment for all patients, not just those who are considered to be high-risk
- Provides recommended dosages for opioid drugs
In addition, they have recommended non-pharmacological options – which include chiropractic care – as “front line” treatments for pain management.
In October of 2018, the United States Congress passed bipartisan legislation to provide treatment and support for opioid addiction and to regulate the proper disposal methods for unused opioids.
The new guidelines and legislation are designed, in part, to discourage doctors from prescribing opioids when other, more conservative, treatment options are available.
Another benefit of the new guidelines is that experts hope it will drive down the cost of prescription opioids for those who truly need them. While opioids have been dangerously overprescribed, they are sometimes the best course of action for patients with cancer and other terminal illnesses that cause acute and otherwise recalcitrant pain.
How Can Chiropractic Treatment Help?
Chiropractic treatment offers patients with acute or chronic pain a non-invasive and holistic treatment method that doesn’t require addictive opioid medications or risky surgery. Chiropractors in many cases receive more classroom and clinical training than medical doctors. They learn to take a patient’s lifestyle and general health into account as they develop an individualized treatment plan.
Chiropractors have increasingly become the first treatment option for many patients who are experiencing lower back and neck pain. Their training and experience make them uniquely qualified to alleviate pain without putting their patients at risk of addiction.
In addition to treating back pain and neck pain, chiropractors often treat osteoarthritis of the hands, hips, and knees, which has been commonly treated with opioids in recent years. They can also help with sciatic nerve pain, whiplash, and pain in the extremities.
Looking forward, there’s reason to hope for more partnerships between mainstream physicians and chiropractors. The goal in every case should be to alleviate the patients’ pain in the least invasive and most holistic way possible.
Opioid drugs have a place in pain management, but they have been overprescribed and overused – two mistakes that have led to our current problem with opioid addiction. In the future, we hope that the benefits of chiropractic care will become clear to doctors and patients alike.