Melanie Rosenblatt, M.D., has seen it all too often: A patient is prescribed painkillers for a chronic condition or injury and ends up dependent on highly addictive opiate drugs. But Dr. Rosenblatt, who is featured in a new Discovery Channel documentary called "Pain Matters," says it doesn't have to be this way.
Chronic and debilitating pain, which strikes millions of Americans, can be managed safely without the long-term use of addictive painkillers. New alternatives to opiate drugs — including injections, implants, and non-medical physical therapies can all offer relief without posing a dependency risk.
"I did the film to help look at this problem of chronic pain and how it affects people," Dr. Rosenblatt, tells Newsmax Health. "The film is really designed to show how patients suffer in chronic pain, how debilitating it can be, how it can cause depression, isolation, loss of job, loss of income, and feelings of worthlessness and helplessness, and how it can affect relationships.
"[But] there are many non-opiate alternatives to treating chronic pain."
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Dr. Rosenblatt, whose South Florida practice specializes in pain management, notes chronic pain "colors everything" in life for people who are afflicted.
"You can't sleep … you have trouble getting out of bed because of the pain … you can't walk your dog or get your mail, and you can't do simple basic tasks for yourself," she notes. "And your entire world becomes consumed with pain. And until you’ve experienced unrelenting chronic pain, I think you can't really appreciate how all-encompassing that is."
Unfortunately, many chronic pain sufferers turn to opiate drugs, such as OxyContin, and become addicted. At some point, the drugs are taken for more than just pain relief.
"What I see happen a lot, particularly down here in South Florida, is patients are prescribed a strong opiate to control acute pain, which is appropriate…in theory once that painful problem , whatever it is – the disease, the broken bone, whatever it is – once it gets repaired or heals with time, the need for opiate pain medicine goes away.
"But often what we see is the opiate pain medicine itself has its own affect and it makes people feel not only less pain, but feel sometimes something else that people have described to me as an energy or a generalized sense of well-being, where they just feel better. So they start taking it for more non-medical uses … and taking a pill to feel better is different than taking a pill to take the pain go away."
One way to reduce the risk of addiction is to treat chronic pain — such as back pain, arthritis pain, or surgical pain — without drugs or less-dangerous medications, she says. The key, she explains, is finding a way to manage chronic pain that doesn’t cause more harm than good.
"Chronic back pain may get better with massage, heat, yoga, physical therapy, other non-opiate medications, other non-steroidal medications, muscle relaxants, other classes of medications," she says. "Some of the anticonvulsants help with chronic pain [as well as] nerve blocks, injections epidurals, and different kinds of injections and implantable techniques."