Is Chiropractic the answer to the Opioid Epidemic?

Seizing on the opioid epidemic as a chance to expand their reach, naturopaths and chiropractors are aggressively lobbying Congress and state governments to elevate the role of alternative therapies in treating chronic pain. They’ve scored several victories in recent months, and hope the Trump administration will give them a further boost.

Their most powerful argument: We don’t prescribe addictive pain pills.

Shunning pharmaceuticals, they treat pain with everything from acupuncture to massage to castor oil ointments. They offer herbal supplements and homeopathic pills.

There’s little rigorous scientific research to back up such treatments. Yet patients often say they feel relief. And providers say their alternative approaches are vitally needed at a time when more than 30,000 people a year die of opioid overdose in the US alone — and half of those deaths involve a prescription painkiller, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I am surprised that with the crisis where it is today, more people aren’t picking up on alternative treatments,” said John Falardeau, a senior vice president with the American Chiropractic Association.

Chiropractors scored a big victory recently in Oregon, where the state Medicaid program decided to cover spinal adjustment for lower back pain starting in 2016. Vermont, Virginia, and Nevada are considering similar moves.

Another win came earlier this year, when the American College of Physicians recommended non-surgical interventions such as acupuncture, yoga, and chiropractic care as the go-to treatments for lower back pain.

Hoping to make even more inroads, both naturopaths and chiropractors are lobbying Congress to push the Veterans Affairs health system to hire alternative providers. Chiropractors are also pushing for a role in the National Health Service Corps, which puts providers to work in community health centers, often in rural areas.

The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians clearly sees an opening to make gains: The arrival of the Trump administration and a new, Republican-controlled Congress “opens up new opportunities for AANP to push for insurance non-discrimination, to have [naturopaths] included in the VA, and to emphasize that naturopathic care is a much-needed alternative to opioids for the treatment of chronic pain,” the AANP website declares.

Chiropractors, too, are hopeful. President Trump has talked about giving more Americans access to flexible spending accounts for health care. That, they say, will make it easier for consumers to pay for treatments that insurance doesn’t cover — like chiropractic care.

Emily Telfair, a naturopath in Maryland, said she often sees chronic pain patients who feel frustrated that conventional treatments haven’t worked to treat their pain. Or those patients haven’t been able to tolerate the tough side effects of pain medication. They come to her hoping for relief.

Telfair uses massage therapy, including a specific type of treatment known as craniosacral massage. She also sends patients home with castor oil packs and topical creams to apply to their pain points, all of which she said are noninvasive ways “to invite the body to heal and let go of the chronic symptom.”

She said her job isn’t always to cure a patient’s pain — it’s to help patients see that their pain won’t always be unrelenting and oppressive, and to help them gain control.

Other naturopaths said they see their goal as finding and addressing the root cause of a patient’s pain. And they argue they have more time than a medical doctor to do that.

“It’s not as simple as a replacement for an opioid. We treat the cause of the pain. We don’t just mask it with a painkiller,” said Michelle Brannick, a naturopathic provider in Illinois who markets her services specifically to pain patients. Brannick relies on homeopathic arnica and herbal supplements, among other treatments.

At Discover Health and Wellness Lone Tree, we take a holistic approach to not only treat the symptoms, but to treat the cause of pain.  If you or someone you know suffers from chronic pain, don’t do it alone.  Contact Discover Health and Wellness Lone Tree to schedule a consultation.