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The Hidden Cause of the Opioid Epidemic That Nobody’s Talking About

We’ve seen the headlines. Heroin addiction is on the rise. Even more alarming is the “silent epidemic” that’s claiming lives and causing lifelong problems with addiction. This refers to the growing use of prescription opioids. To deal with this rising problem, politicians and others advocate cracking down on those who produce or prescribe opioids. However, these approaches don’t address the underlying issue. They’re at best a bandaid, and may make the problem worse.

Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies. This has put enormous stress on our already overloaded medical system. The total cost of treating pain in this country is estimated to be between $560-635 billion a year.

Opioids can be an effective way to deal with pain. But they come with risks. Deaths from overdose of medications have tripled since 1990, driven to a large extent by prescription drugs, opioids among them. Emergency room visits from opioid-related adverse events have skyrocketed in recent years. And of course, opioids are addictive, and sometimes serve as gateways to illicit drug use.

If you’ve never experienced chronic pain, it’s only too easy to judge others. But for those who suffer from it, it's devastating. Pain drains the pleasure and enjoyment out of life. In a recent survey of pain sufferers, over three quarters (77%) reported being depressed. Pain sufferers are twice as likely to commit suicide than those without pain.

Those who experience chronic pain are often subject to a confusing and dehumanizing treatment by the medical system. Doctors, under pressure not to overprescribe opioids, will deny them to patients while providing few or no effective alternatives. Patients with chronic pain often end up being treated like drug-seeking criminals. Insurers, meanwhile, make access to alternative treatments difficult or impossible.

Many doctors, including those who specialize in pain management, psychologize their patients. They often mistake symptoms such as depression and anxiety as causes of pain rather than effects. They tell them that pain can be managed by changing their attitude towards it.

We would never tell someone with a broken leg to heal themselves with their positive attitude. Yet, this is what we’re telling people with chronic pain. It’s a cruel and unfair trick to play on those who are already suffering.

What’s missing in the discussion is the basic question: what causes chronic pain? Why do so many people suffer from it? Why does it often come on following an injury or surgery?

The answer is one that’s often overlooked. Doctors rarely, if ever, mention it to patients, and many know nothing about it. Even physical therapy, which can be effective for some, is largely unaware of this all-important factor.

It’s worthy to note that even when a doctor doesn’t know the actual cause of what is causing the pain that a patient is having, they’re still compelled to render a diagnosis. Here is where the problem is, by giving a symptom a name it appears that the doctor knows more than he does. Names such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, (other examples needed here)

Often times a patient can be misled into thinking that the doctor knows what’s wrong because there’s a “diagnosis.” But the definition of a diagnosis is: “the identification of the nature of an illness by examination of the symptoms.” So by definition, it’s only a description of the illness, not what is wrong and the correct solution to the problem. In a perfect world, the correct diagnosis would not only describe the illness, but would also lead to the cause of the problem along with the correct and workable solution and thus resolve the problem.

Then what is the hidden cause of so much pain? It’s a diagnosis that does not exist in the medical world, or at least is not used.

Something about “diagnosis” of chronic pain—fancy names without known cause for pain syndromes, fibromyalgia and others …

What is this hidden cause of so much pain? It’s known as a pinched nerve. Pinched nerves can cause a wide array of chronic pain conditions.

Successful treatments for chronic pain are within our reach. We need to address the underlying causes, particularly the too often overlooked issue of pinched nerves. Insurance companies need to do more to include chiropractic care in their coverage. Doctors need to be informed about pinched nerves so they can appropriately refer patients for treatment.

Sunshine Mugrabi is a writer and tech marketer living in Silicon Valley. She was in an accident that caused such severe pain that she nearly died. She went to over 50 doctors seeking help. They all failed to help her. She is now being successfully treated by Dr. Wong and as a result has become a strong advocate for chiropractic care for chronic pain, and for disseminating information about the role of pinched nerves in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain.

-Dr. Harry Wong

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