Every year millions of Americans use opioids to manage pain. Doctor-prescribed opioids are appropriate in some cases, but they just mask the pain—and reliance on opioids has led to the worst drug crisis in American history.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Physicians, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have issued guidelines and reports urging health care providers to pursue safe nondrug alternatives, including physical therapy, for most non–cancer-related pain treatment.
Physical therapists (PTs) treat pain through movement, hands-on care, and patient education—and by increasing physical activity you can also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases. A recent study published in Health Services Research found that patients who saw a PT before trying other treatments for low back pain were 89% less likely to need an opioid prescription.
Statistics from the CDC, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the United States (US) Department of Health and Human Services reveal the gravity of the problem.
1. In 2016, health care providers across the US wrote more than 214 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication—a rate of 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people.
2. As many as 1 in 5 people receive prescription opioids long-term for noncancer pain in primary care settings.
3. More than 11 million people abused prescription opioids in 2016.
4. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.
5. More than 40% of all US opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved a prescription opioid.
6. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths (66%) involved a prescription or illicit opioid.
7. The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the US is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
If you know someone in pain, encourage them to talk to their physician or PT about safe ways to manage pain.
The American Physical Therapy Association’s #ChoosePT campaign is raising awareness about the dangers of prescription opioids, and encourages consumers and prescribers to choose safer alternatives like physical therapy for most chronic pain management.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US drug overdose deaths continue to rise; increase fueled by synthetic opioids. Updated March 29, 2018. Accessed July 26, 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US prescribing rate maps. Updated July 31, 2017. Accessed July 26, 2018.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2016. Accessed July 26, 2018.
Florence CS, Zhou C, Luo F, Xu L. The economic burden of prescription opioid overdose, abuse, and dependence in the United States, 2013. Med Care. 2016;54(10):901–906. Free Article.