National Spine & Pain Centers’ Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peter Staats has authored an op-ed piece for Newsweek magazine on the critical role interventional pain therapies play in fighting the nation’s current opioid epidemic.
Interventional therapies such as nerve ablations, spinal cord stimulation and steroid and anesthetic injections into problem joints, tissues and nerves are “non-surgical procedures that target the parts of the body that generate chronic pain—and thus could eliminate patients’ desire for opioids,” he said.
Dr. Staats noted that these procedures are proven to provide long-term relief—something opioids do not. “One comprehensive report from experts at six U.S. universities found that evidence of the long-term benefits of opioids is ‘scant,’” he wrote. “And many opioid users ‘continue to have moderate to severe pain and diminished quality of life.’”
Yet opioids have become the default solution for many physicians, partly because insurance plans make it easy to do so. “Every Medicare plan covers common opioids and does not require prior approval,” Dr. Staats said. In fact, some insurers require doctors to try opioids before they will even consider interventional procedures. “Interventional therapies can be more expensive than pills initially, even if they’re more effective in the long run. So health plans often discourage their use, typically by classifying them as ‘experimental’ and therefore providing little or no reimbursement.”
Given the scope of the current opioid crisis facing the nation, Dr. Staats believes health care professionals and insurers need to review and re-think how pain is treated.
The only way to solve the nation’s opioid crisis is to treat chronic pain effectively. By embracing interventional therapies, doctors can do just that.” – Peter Staats, M.D.