The opioid epidemic in the United States is constantly growing to new and more alarming rates. One of the primary reasons for this is because the United States is the world leader when it comes to prescribing opioid medications. An example of the reason the U.S. is having a opioid problem is that while we make up only about 4.6% of the world population, we consume 81% of the world’s entire supply of oxycodone, so it’s important that we begin looking at other ways to treat pain[1].

How Opioid Addiction Begins with Pain

Opioids are a synthetic form of opiates, which are found in drugs like heroin and morphine. Opioids started becoming a problem in the early 2000s when OxyContin was being marketed as a miracle pain medication that wasn’t addictive [2]. It didn’t take long for people to realize the medication was highly addictive. When people were taking opioids for long periods of time, their dependence and tolerance would grow, and they would need more in order to feel well.

It’s important to realize that most people learn at a very young age that heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs out there. The main reasons people jump from opioids to drugs like heroin is because of its potency and price being much cheaper than buying medications when they reach certain levels of dependence. People may have difficulty maintaining their opioid addiction due to restrictions from doctors as well as pharmacies. Due to intense cravings, the person eventually turns to heroin without thinking of the negative consequences.

Alternatives for Opioids

Medical science is working hard to discover new ways to treat pain that don’t involve these highly addictive opioids. This starts with physicians being aware of the options and presenting them to people when they’re in pain. It’s important for physicians to let people know the potential dangers of long-term opioid use and potential addictions. One of the great alternatives to pain medications come in the form of holistic methods.

Some of the methods used as alternative forms of pain management include physical as well as occupational therapy, and other options are chiropractic medicine, massage therapy and acupuncture [3]. Not only do these alternatives help treat physical pain, but they help with patient empowerment mentally as well. Focusing on mental health has also been proven to greatly help relieve pain. When people are happy about life, the body naturally produces endorphins, which are the body’s chemicals that help to alleviate pain.

Non-Narcotic Medications

The reason many physicians turn to opioids as the first option when people are in pain is because opioids act very quickly. It’s natural for people want to alleviate their pain as quickly as possible, but the risk of addiction often isn’t worth it. When the brain becomes dependent to opioids, it intensifies the pain to make the person want to use opioids. Many people can have their pain treated with over-the-counter medications that help treat the affected area rather than block the pain. There is much better recovery as well as nearly non-existent addiction rates. The problem is many people feel they need a stronger solution before they try over the counter medications.

A new non-narcotic pain killer is starting to get more acknowledgement as well. Exparel is a non-narcotic medication that not only speeds up recovery times, but it also reduces the chance of dependency [4]. It works by decreasing the initial severe pain that people have right after an injury or a surgery. These types of options are what give our country hope that we can overcome the opioid crisis together.