Story by Haley Humphrey • Photos by Bailey Bussell
President Donald Trump directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017.
Action for this escalating epidemic was long overdue. However, the actions Trump stated in a ceremony held at the White House for families affected by opioid abuse instructed Americans, especially the youth of the country, to “just say no” to drugs in general.
But how effective is this? Most people do not wake up one day and decide they will become an addict.
What people need is an alternative method for treating pain.
Physical therapy is an option Americans can look into.
With the phenomenon known as the drug cascade—the dependency on prescription medication—increasing each year, the treatment of physical therapy is rarely, if ever, discussed. Many Americans who suffer from pain go to their physicians who write them a prescription for an allotted amount of time, without even suggesting the option of physical therapy.
“Pharmaceutical companies made billions promoting the aggressive prescribing of opioids,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, senior scientist at Brandeis University, in a Time article written by Haley Sweetland Edwards.
Why is physical therapy not an option most physicians provide? Drugs are the quickest fix. Physical therapy can take weeks, months or even years to help manage pain, which is why many turn to a medication that can alter the brain to not feel pain for a select period of time. However, the cause of the pain is not actually being treated, just the brain’s response to the pain it is receiving.
According to Edwards, “33,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2015 alone, state and federal guidelines have encouraged doctors to co-prescribe opioids with a drug that reverses an overdose.” So, essentially there is a pill to stop the first pill.
Vicki Buchanan, physical therapist and founder of Regional Physical Therapy, Inc. located in Midwest City, was inspired to help patients regain their independence from pain.
Like surgeons, physical therapists address mechanical problems without the onset of medication. By the time patients arrive to physical therapy, if at all, they have usually gone through at least three rounds of medications for the pain they are feeling, according to Buchanan. The cycle that Buchanan, who has been in this business for 31 years, illustrated mainly occurs in this way: a patient informs their doctor they have pain; the doctor gives the patient a prescription to relieve the pain; the patient returns to the doctor insisting the pain has not ceased; the doctor sends the patient to a pain management specialist who will then prescribe yet another dose of medication that may involve an anti-inflammatory. Many Americans believe this is the only cycle they can live by to heal their pain.
The American Physical Therapy Association worked on a campaign called PT First to limit the vicious cycle of opioids by having doctors send their patients to a movement specialist for mechanical examination without pain medication, according to Buchanan.
Further progress has been made with the establishments of Fighting Addiction Through Education by Integris and the Austin Box Foundation. FATE helps people overcome opioid addiction. Gail Box, mother of Austin Box and former linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners football team, works to raise awareness of prescription drug use with the ABF.
The practice of medicine is not aimed to destroy lives. However, it has been made to appear like the only way out for people suffering from pain. Acknowledging the mechanical error occurring and practicing healthy eating habits could very well result in the pain-free solution people are searching for.
This is only the beginning of a long list of other alternative recovery options.
The 6420 is a student publication at Rose State College.