In recent months, federal agencies and state health officials have been pressing doctors to first treat pain with alternative methods before resorting to opioids. There are even plans to possibly restrict how many pain pills a doctor can prescribe. Millions of people in the United States suffer from chronic pain and the task of getting these people to turn to alternative treatments over pain medications is a daunting one. According to this New York Times article, inconsistent insurance coverage and resistance from patients and their doctors to make changes are at the heart of why this transition continues to be a difficult one.
“We are all culpable,” said Dr. David Deitz, a former insurance industry executive and a consultant on pain treatment issues. “I don’t care whether you are a doctor, an insurer or a patient.”
Alternative treatments for pain may include chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, meditation, massage, yoga, acupuncture, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Not all these treatments are covered by insurance plans or plans impose strict limits on them – and these alternative therapies can be very expensive. An underlying issue also surrounds the effectiveness of certain treatments and evidence varies widely as to what works better, which is why so many insurance companies are hesitant to provide coverage for these programs. Regardless of insurance coverage, many patients reject non-drug treatments, perhaps because as suggested in the article, taking a pill is fast, easy, and generally reliable. On the flip side, alternative treatments take more planning and time out of the day, and the effects are not immediate. The opioid epidemic has helped to create a necessary landscape for change in our approach to pain relief.