Opioid Prescriptions and Chronic Pain: Knowing Your Condition and Options

Duane DiFranco, MD

| 3 min read

Image of person holding thier skin in pain.
Blue Cross is proud to take an active stand against the opioid crisis by educating the community about the issue’s dangerous effects and how you can get involved to help. We know that in some cases opioids are over-prescribed and some abuse them, but we also know there are people who need the medication and use it responsibly for pain management. That’s one of the reasons we set up a task force designed to make sure those members’ interests are addressed.

A Delicate Balance

A complicated aspect of the opioid crisis is the group of individuals experiencing chronic pain and whose conditions are best treated with an opioid prescription. It’s important to understand the balance between solving the opioid crisis and helping those in chronic pain get the treatment they truly need. We know those experiencing extreme pain aren’t “causing the problem” and want to assure our members and community that those who need the medication can still acquire it. Our goal is to keep the medication out of the wrong hands and reduce the possibility of addiction.

Putting Guardrails in Place

Our team is working tirelessly to help reduce opioid abuse and there are many moving pieces in action that can support both patients who experience chronic pain and care providers. One of our team’s Care Quality Initiatives, the Michigan Quality Improvement Consortium, has drafted guidelines for the proper use of opioids and treatment of pain in primary care. They operate through the Michigan Quality Improvement Consortium and direct providers in how to properly prescribe opioids as well as continue to educate them in how to treat chronic pain.

Alternatives for Chronic Pain Sufferers

BCBSM also understands that many members would prefer not to rely on opioids to manage their pain. If you suffer from chronic pain, the good news is that there are non-opioid alternatives for you to consider:
  • Comprehensive evaluations: Primary care providers work in tandem with psychologists who have special training to provide comprehensive evaluations of patients’ pain. It is the best and most effective way to determine a safe and, long-term, healthy way to treat chronic pain.
  • Physical therapy and functional rehabilitation: In certain cases, physical therapy can be a great mechanical way of relieving pain over time through the natural strengthening of the body. Functional rehabilitation also has a psychological care component beneficial to all patients.
  • Other drug combinations: If approved by your doctor, ibuprofen and Tylenol taken together can be not only as effective as opioids, but also have fewer side effects and lower risks of addiction. Some conditions, such as fibromyalgia, actually worsen with opioid applications, so it’s critical to use the proper resources to medicate your condition.
  • Injections: Where appropriate, your doctor may prescribe injections for non-opioid treatments. These are milder drug combinations and less addictive than the alternative.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Weight loss, exercise, proper sleeping habits, a healthy diet and a number of other factors can all play into chronic pain. Managing these aspects of your life can mean less pain and a healthy path going forward.
More research is needed for us to determine whether some alternative forms of pain treatment offer more than placebos do. Massage therapy and acupuncture, for example, remain somewhat controversial. The options listed above are comprehensive and effective. Leadership is continuing to evaluate the evidence of these alternative treatments. For more information on opioids and how you can help combat the crisis, check out: • The Fight Against Opioids: Can a Drug Addiction Be Treated by Another Drug?Understanding Opioids and Their EffectsThe Safe Way to Take Prescription Opioid Pain Medications Photo Credit: Pexels
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