America's Pain-Pill Epidemic
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, September 03, 2014 12:00 AM

Pain has become the most common reason that people see doctors--more than 100 million Americans are reported to suffer from chronic pain, a number that exceeds the combined total of people suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and stroke.  

The pain-relieving properties of opium have been known for thousands of years, but because of its dangerous side effects and addictive properties, it has generally been reserved for more severe forms of acute pain. This changed in the mid-90s when doctors became more lax about prescribing opioids over a longer period of time. Pharmaceutical companies launched marketing campaigns, and medical use of opioids in the US increased tenfold over the next two decades. This was a gamble between relieving the pain of patients and the risk of overuse.  Mounting evidence suggests that long-term opioid drug use triggers a vicious circle of continued pain and addiction. 

The headlines about the rise of prescription drugs as a major cause of addiction and death by overdose are growing more numerous. Pain pills are overshadowed by illegal drugs like heroin and their dangers masked by a certain air of respectability. Yet America is in the midst of an epidemic of painkiller overuse. In 2014 the FDA approved a new version of a pure hydrocodone despite the objections of its own medical advisory panel (which voted 12 to 2 against approval) and 30 states. Today opioid overdose deaths (one every 30 minutes) exceed deaths from motor vehicle accidents as well as the combined total of deaths by heroin or cocaine overdose.

Is there another way to resolve chronic pain besides the disastrous course we're on?

The brain contains many pain-relieving chemicals, and these can be triggered mentally, which is why taking a placebo leads to pain relief in a significant proportion of people.  Brain scans show that a placebo, when effective, changes the brain in the same way as do active pills, and these changes can be found in the spinal cord, not just the brain. The implications are strong for chronic pain over an extended period, too. Studies in arthritis patients have shown that the placebo effect can last over two years. In sum, self-efficacy is more powerful and more long-lasting than is generally realized.

Source:  http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/chopra/article/A-Better-Way-to-Approach-Pain-and-America-s-5709973.php