May 28, 2019Health News You Can Use

The Fight Against Opioids: How PT Can Help

1 out of 4 of the patients who receive prescription painkillers on a long-term basis for noncancer pain in a primary care setting ends up struggling with dependence or addiction. And those who are addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to develop an addiction to heroin. This puts patients who receive prescriptions for pain medication on an incredibly slippery slope.

The nation’s largest health plans spend more money on prescription pain medication for musculoskeletal episodes than on cancer treatment.

While prescription pain medications are risky for patients, they’re also expensive for patients and their health plans—especially when compared to safer, less invasive approaches to treating musculoskeletal pain (e.g., physical therapy). At last year’s Ascend Business Summit, David Elton, the Senior Vice President of Clinical Programs at Optum and a member of the UnitedHealth Group’s Opioid Task Force and Pain Management Work Group, shared some illuminating data, which we originally posted here: according to a soon-to-be-published study conducted by Boston University—and jointly sponsored by UHC and the APTA—“claims for musculoskeletal episodes accounted for more than 16% of total spending—a percentage greater than that associated with any other condition. Furthermore, 75% of that spending went toward prescription medications. To put that into perspective, a little over 11% of UHC’s total spend went toward claims for cancer treatment.” In other words, UHC—one of the nation’s largest health plans—is spending more money on prescription pain medication for musculoskeletal episodes than it is spending on cancer treatment.

Physical therapy is a prime tool for avoiding opioid dependence.

UHC also found there’s a 75% – 90% lower likelihood of opioid use if the first provider is a PT. This finding is reinforced in a recent study published by the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Duke School of Medicine reports that physical therapy undertaken early in the injury recovery process can help lower the risk for long-term opioid use. The key takeaway here is that the earlier the patient began their physical therapy regimen, the lower risk they had for opioid misuse.

It’s not too late for those suffering to find help – but how do you start?

We’ve discussed before that patients can go directly to a physical therapist without needing to be referred by their physician; this allows for pain reduction quickly and at a lower cost.

Two things to consider: Are you looking to avoid opioids? Or are you wanting to reduce your dependence on opioids?

If you are looking to avoid opioids, keep in mind that when a patient is in pain, opioids are often prescribed immediately in an effort to ease that pain. And while pain medications provide a short-term solution to dealing with the pain, they don’t address the underlying cause of pain. The physical therapists at ProRehab PC work to tackle the root cause of pain and help patients avoid injections, surgery, imaging, and medications.

If you are wanting to reduce your dependence on opioids, your physical therapist can work closely with you and your doctor to work on pain relief strategies while addressing any underlying injuries or conditions causing your pain symptoms.

The first step to treating physical pain without opioid use is to see a PT. Physical therapists fully examine your musculoskeletal condition and determine the actual cause of pain. From there, they develop a customized treatment plan to reduce or eliminate your pain—without the need for addictive opioids.