Dr. Peter Staats, National Spine & Pain Centers’ chief medical officer, recently penned an article in Pain Medicine News on how interventional pain therapies can help battle the nation’s current opioid crisis.
In the article he noted:
- The Centers for Disease Control reports that medical providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2016, yet patients are still hurting.
- When early interventions such as physical therapy or over-the-counter medications are not effective, patients should be referred to an interventional pain specialist who can provide treatments that can replace or minimize the use of opioids.
- Facet blocks, radiofrequency ablation, spinal cord stimulation, dorsal root ganglion stimulation, minimally invasive lumbar decompression (MILD) and epidural injections can reduce pain and opioid use while improving function.
- New peripheral nerve stimulation devices can target specific fibers within the nerves that modulate pain, potentially preventing the need for opioids.
- For patients who do require some level of strong pain relief such as opioids, alternative delivery methods, such as intrathecal pumps like those used to deliver pain medication to cancer patients, could limit the amount of opioids they need to control long-term pain while also significantly reducing the chance of abuse and diversion.
- Despite their demonstrated ability to address chronic pain, health insurance companies tend to label many of these therapies as experimental or too expensive—even though opioids can be exceedingly expensive for patients on high doses, approaching $6,000 per patient every year.
- Improved payment options should be offered to allow patients the chance to cover the cost of non-opioid therapies or to partner with their physicians to appeal payor denials. Insurance companies should stop using opioids as a short-term, cost-saving first-line approach to pain.
- The long-term cost savings to society of innovative drug-free therapies in place of systemic opioid therapy are evident and should be embraced and implemented.