When you’re in pain, the search for relief can feel all-consuming, as if you would do almost anything just to feel better, to return to “normal” life again. And for millions of Americans experiencing pain, opioids are often prescribed as the first and primary form of defense.
However, while opioids may be appropriate for some patients experiencing severe and acute pain, such as postoperative pain, they are by no means a long-term solution. Over time, in fact, not only do opioids lose their effectiveness for managing pain in most patients, but they also significantly increase the risk of life-threatening opioid addiction (1). For chronic pain patients, the seeming lack of alternatives to opioid therapies can feel like balancing on a razor’s edge, struggling not to fall into debilitating pain on one side or into dangerous addiction on the other.
It does not have to be this way, though. You don’t have to choose between your quality of life and your sobriety. There are alternatives to opioids for managing chronic pain. At Bayshore, we use a holistic and highly personalized approach to controlling pain, helping our clients to return to a more vibrant, fulfilling, and productive life without the use of narcotics.
The opioid epidemic in the United States has reached crisis levels in recent years, driven largely by a significant uptick in the use of physician-prescribed opioids to treat not only postoperative pain but also noncancer-related chronic pain (2). And there is danger in the one-size-fits-all approach to chronic pain management.
Current research into the ongoing opioid epidemic shows that the majority of clinicians engage in little or no patient screening prior to prescribing opioids for pain relief (2). In addition, prescribers rarely create treatment plans to regulate the use of the medication, limit the amount of time it’s used, and successfully taper the patient off the drug and onto non-narcotic pain management strategies as quickly as possible (2). Tragically, the consequences of this failure have been deadly: Between 2005 and 2014, hospitalizations related to opioids rose by 64%, while in 2016, more than 42,000 people died from opioid overdose, an increase of nearly 30% over the previous year (14).
This is why it is imperative to tailor pain management strategies to the unique needs of individual patients. After all, every patient brings their own genetic predispositions, their own life histories, and their own particular experience of pain. The unquestioning and careless reliance on prescription opioids not only risks doing little more than temporarily masking the pain without addressing the root causes of the pain condition or guarding against the significant harms that opioid dependency may bring.
Treating the Whole Person
At Bayshore, we do not require our clients to conform to a pre-determined treatment program. Rather, we focus on getting to know our clients as individuals, not diagnoses. This enables us to partner with each client and their healthcare providers, caregivers, and loved ones to design a recovery program that meets the client’s specific needs and goals. We can do this because we purposely limit the number of clients that we serve at one time to just six.
Such a person-focused treatment approach is particularly important when you’re dealing with chronic pain. Without a targeted strategy for addressing underlying causes, and, in particular, the pain that ultimately helped trigger the opioid dependency, then it’s unlikely that patients will be able to abstain for very long. Even more significant, the ultimate objective of the recovery plan–to enable clients to live a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life–will never be achieved.
Pain, however, is a complex phenomenon. For many patients, pain isn’t only physiological. Instead, it is influenced and complicated by a range of other factors, from the psychological to the social to the behavioral (3).
And those are all the fronts on which Bayshore helps clients take control of their pain–and their lives. Above all, the Bayshore approach seeks to overcome one of the most significant deficiencies in efforts to manage chronic pain without opioids, and that is the relative lack of effective partnerships and shared decision-making between patients and their healthcare providers (4). We recognize, above all, that no one understands or experiences your pain as you do. This is the premise that drives our person-focused approach and informs our efforts to offer a wide variety of evidence-based options for managing pain without narcotics. Ultimately, the whole-person and multidisciplinary approach enables our clients, in partnership with their recovery team, to devise the integrated and holistic pain management strategy that works best for them.
Physical and Mental Health
Both addiction recovery and effective chronic pain management depend upon the pursuit of optimal physical and mental health. And that means identifying the most promising, evidence-based solutions for addressing persistent pain through health-based solutions.
We use evidence-based best practices drawn from many different disciplines, ranging from physiology and chiropractic to neurobiology and homeopathy. In this way, we are able to treat the whole person, supporting our clients in developing individualized and research-supported strategies both for managing pain and supporting overall wellness.
For example, at Bayshore, clients receive support from mental health experts, including specialists in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has been shown to be a particularly effective adjunctive tool for drug-free pain management (5, 7), particularly when used in conjunction with expert-designed and directed exercise and physical therapy regimens tailored to the client’s particular pain condition (6).
At Bayshore, clients also have the opportunity to consult with our on-staff psychiatrist to explore other evidence-based options for managing chronic pain, including the use of lidocaine patches for localized pain or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) such as Cymbalta or Lyrica for more diffuse, particularly neuropathic, pain (15).
Studies also suggest that solutions which include some combination of chiropractic care, exercise therapy, and even more novel strategies, such as ultrasound and nerve stimulation, are often highly effective in controlling persistent pain (8, 9). At Bayshore, clients who are interested in exploring these options can be connected with accredited specialists in these fields. Best of all, we can help you build your team of local care providers to ensure that the successful treatment strategy you build at Bayshore continues once you return home.
At Bayshore, our holistic approach to addiction recovery and chronic pain management includes seeking out proven solutions wherever they may be found. And that means that we embrace complementary as well as conventional medicine.
For example, at Bayshore, we offer acupuncture, massage, meditation, and even art and music therapy. A growing body of evidence indicates that “alternative” therapies such as these can be highly effective in controlling even severe chronic pain (10, 11).
Clients can also participate in our onsite yoga classes, where they will learn gentle exercise techniques to improve flexibility, balance, and musculoskeletal strength and conditioning, all of which are associated not only with decreased pain but also a reduced risk of additional injury related to falls, strains, and sprains. In our yoga classes, clients also learn breathing, mindfulness, and meditation techniques that have been shown to promote relaxation and decrease chronic pain (16).
In addition, for clients seeking natural alternatives to opioids, we offer training in homeopathy and nutrition (12, 13). Clients learn about the physiology of pain and how diet, supplements, and homeopathic remedies can work inside the body to prevent pain or, at the very least, reduce its frequency and severity.
Breaking your dependency on opioids does not have to mean resigning yourself to chronic pain. Through an integrated, holistic, and whole-person approach, it is possible to manage persistent pain without narcotics. At Bayshore, we can help you create the customized and comprehensive approach to achieving the life you deserve, a life free of both drugs and debilitating pain.