Treating pain without pills

, Posted: Tue, February 18 2014 at 5:21 PM, Updated: Tue, February 18 2014 at 8:26 PM

Medford, Ore. -- More than 100-million Americans suffer from chronic, long lasting pain and tonight new guidelines released out of Southern Oregon hope to change the way doctors treat those patients.

It's a response to what's become a pain-pill epidemic causing dozens of deadly overdoses here in Southern Oregon every year.

NBC5 first introduced you to the work of the Southern Oregon Opioid Prescribers Group, now we take a closer look at how those guidelines are designed to work.

Sometimes talking can lead to healing but when the pain is physical, it can be harder to see how a hearing ear can help.

Ten years ago Michelle Marikos took a fall off a second story porch. She broke three vertebrae. Her injuries permanent and painful "The pain's not going away, I need to take more pills" said Marikos.

She spent the next ten years addicted to a cocktail of opioid prescriptions. An addiction that left her in more pain than the injury itself "You start having anxiety about running out of your medication, about losing your medication, people's perception of you being on the medication." she said.

Her situation far too common in Jackson County. Addiction costing dozens of Southern Oregonians their lives each year.

In response to that emergency, Jackson County Health Director Jim Shames helped create the Southern Oregon Opioid Prescribers Group and their work is extensive.

They've just released a book of guidelines intended to steer doctors away from treating patients with pills.

Shames says it's not going to be an easy sell "You have decades of physicians and other prescribers being told a certain message and now we're trying to say 'Ohhh wait a minute we didn't really mean that.'"

So what exactly do they mean? Research the group compiled shows non-opioid treatment can be more effective than pills.

Physical fitness can ease pain by up to 60% and cognitive behavioral therapy by up to 50% "In some ways it's sort of a reprogramming about being with the pain and how you're sort of interpreting it" said shames.

Clinical Social Worker Laura Heesacker says learning how to live with pain can actually ease it "I see people being hugely successful."

Marikos, who got clean in July, says it worked for her "Part of the concept was to taper off the pills using skills."

The guidelines don't rule out opiates all together, but advise doctors not to prescribe them on the first visit and only after a urinalysis checking for drug use and a signed agreement that a patient knows the risks.

Central Point Doctor Brandan Hull says following the guidelines takes time, but he believes they're worthwhile "By putting in the same practices for everybody we'll try to uncover the people who are getting into trouble with the medicine."

Marikos is now trying to form a group for Southern Oregonians living with chronic pain, so she and others can share their pain, because, after all, talking can lead to healing "We're all in the same situation and we're all trying to get to an end point where we're living our lives again."

If you're interested in being part of the group, call Marikos at 541 944 7110.


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