Chronic Pain and the Opioid Question

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for the use of opioids for pain management. The guidelines were introduced as a means of combating the opioid abuse epidemic now raging across the country. As was intended, the guidelines gave primary care physicians reason to pause and reconsider how they treat chronic pain.

Unfortunately, one of the results has been a backlash among chronic pain patients who now struggle to find doctors willing to prescribe opioids. Patients are understandably frustrated by what they perceive is an assumption of addictive potential that discourages doctors from prescribing pain medications like fentanyl and oxycodone.

High-profile cases involving opioids and celebrities have certainly not helped things either. However, perhaps focusing on the CDC’s guidelines and their effects on doctors is not the right way to look at this. Maybe a better approach is to ask how the CDC guidelines can lead us to better options.

Fact: Opioids Are Addictive

It is easy to shake a fist at primary care physicians who find themselves unwilling to prescribe opioids or take on new chronic pain cases. But the fact remains that opioids are addictive. Even before the new guidelines, doctors were strongly discouraged from using opioids as a long-term treatment for managing pain. Cancer treatments and palliative care have been two exceptions. In most other cases, opioids are recommended as a treatment for no more than a few weeks.

This brings us to the obvious question of whether there are other ways to treat chronic pain or not without using opioids. According to Apex Biologix, there are other ways for certain kinds of conditions. Apex Biologix is a Utah company that trains doctors in the use of regenerative medicine procedures including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapies. They say many of the doctors they have already trained promote regenerative medicine for the treatment of chronic pain.

Natural Healing and Tissue Regeneration

PRP and stem cell therapies are both part of a broader form of medicine known as regenerative medicine. The basic principle of regenerative medicine is simple: encourage the body to heal itself naturally through the repair of damaged tissue and regeneration of lost tissue. PRP therapy is primarily for repair while stem cell therapy is aimed at tissue regeneration.

If you step back and look at chronic pain issues, some of them (admittedly, not all of them) are the direct result of damaged or lost tissue. Opioids are effective at blocking pain receptors, but they do nothing to address the root cause of a patient’s pain. Regenerative medicine does.

PRP or stem cell therapy can be applied to certain kinds of orthopedic injuries and diseases. Osteoarthritis is a very good example. Doctors have seen very good results in treating individuals with knee arthritis using both PRP and stem cell options. Patients report increased function and reduced pain over extended periods of time.

If regenerative medicine can successfully encourage the body to repair damaged tissue and regenerate what was lost, the potential for eliminating the need for pain medication is significant. And even if pain medication cannot be completely eliminated, reducing the volume and frequency it is used offers obvious benefits.

It is unfortunate that patients suffering from chronic pain are experiencing additional problems as a result of the new CDC guidelines. The solution is not to get the CDC to change its mind. It is to look for new ways to treat chronic pain that actually get to the root of the issue. Regenerative medicine can and should be a big part of that.

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