Doris Keene, a 59-year-old Portland resident, has had problems staying active and is suffering from constant pain. “My leg started bothering me. First it was my knees.” She ignored the pain and “…just tried to deal with it,” Keene told NPR.
Her physician prescribed her Vicodin and muscle relaxants and it aided her to some degree, but she quickly became addicted. “My body was saying, ‘Well, if I take another one, maybe it’ll work.’ So, I mean, that’s just human nature. Especially when you’re in the kind of pain I was in. You get to the point after months and months of pain where you’re begging for anything (anything) to relieve the pain,” she said.
Oregon currently leads the country in nonmedical abuse of opioids; about 33% of hospitalizations in Oregon are associated with opioids.
When the doctor cut off her medications, “I got very upset,” Keene recounts. “I said, ‘What do you mean? You gave them to me. Why’d you give them to me and then tell me that I couldn’t have them?’ I was begging.”
Keene ended up going to a pain management clinic in Portland called the Quest Center for Integrative Health. The center recommended she try acupuncture, and now she swears by it.
“I came in here wearing back braces, and knee braces and a crutch, and Dr. Dave told me, ‘Get rid of them! They’re just weakening your muscles,'” Keene says. “And when I could walk out of here after the first acupuncture [treatment], I wanted to grab him and kiss him.”
Executive director of The Quest Center, Dr. Dave Eisen, believe doctors need to stop using prescription painkillers as the first line of resistance against pain. “There should be an array of things for people to choose from. Whether it be chiropractic care, naturopathic care, acupuncture, nutrition, massage, to try those things and if they don’t work you use opioids … as a last resort,” he told NPR.
Oregon is now trying to get more patients to try the same method as Keene. Coordinator of the Oregon Pain Management Commission, Denise Taray, says Medicaid’s outdated way of dealing with back pain involved bed rest and painkiller medications.
“The only thing that might have been covered in the past was narcotics,” Taray told NPR. “But treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, physical therapy, and rehab would never have been covered.”
In January 2016, Oregon will fund many of these unconventional cures for those under the Oregon Health Plan. While the treatments may more expensive than painkillers, the state hopes to save cash by decreasing the number of people who abuse or become addicted to opioids.
“Research is out there that suggests that with back conditions we’re spending a lot of money on health care treatments and services that aren’t improving outcomes,” Taray says.
Oregon has not found definite proof that yoga, acupuncture, or chiropractic methods work better than medication. But on the other hand, these alternatives don’t consist of drugs.