While Election Day votes rolled in outside Tuesday night, ATS The Bridge hosted a forum at First Baptist Church on one of the major issues being discussed this election season: opioids.
The forum was hosted by guest speaker, Dr. Don Teater, M.D.
A primary care doctor, Teater went over opioids, pain, and addiction and explained how the three are related.
“We were told in medical school that opioids are the most potent medications we have for treatment of pain,” Teater said. “However, the funny thing is that there is no science to support this assertion.”
While America only has 4.6 percent of the world’s population, it consumes 80 percent of the world’s opioids. Ironically, 83 percent of the world’s populations have no access to opioids.
Teater states the number of opioid addicts is directly related to the amount of opioids the doctors prescribe, and references two people in particular who have died from opioids he himself prescribed them prior to his discovery of alternative pain control methods.
“I think the opioid problem is the biggest healthcare issue facing America right now,” he added.
Aside from the physiological effects they bring with them, opioids also affect people on an emotional level as well. One of the most prominent effects that quickly gets people addicted to opioids is their simulation of dopamine within the brain. Dopamine is the hormone which makes you feel pleasure; it is released when eating a good meal, during sex, on special occasions, etc.
Many opiate addicts cite the feeling of euphoria they felt upon first using the drugs. Teater calls this the “Dorothy Reaction,” referring to when Dorothy encounters the field of poppies in “The Wizard of Oz” and is elated to see them. This feeling of instant gratification will make users continue using the drugs in order to acquire that feeling over and over; however, the feeling becomes more and more elusive as they continue to use the opioids, and eventually the users will seek out more harsh sources such as heroin to get their fix.
In addition to their addictive effects, these drugs also bring a number of other risks with their use such as brain changes, increased risk of falls for elderly users and cardiac issues.
Teater explained how patients — who truly needed pain relief — may be affected differently depending upon the dosage they were prescribed. Those given a single day’s dose have a 6 percent chance of still using that drug a year later. An eight day dose brings that percentage up to 13.5 percent and a 31 day dose brings the percentage all the way up to 29.9 percent chance of still using that drug a year later.
Perhaps the biggest revelation Teater unveiled to the attendants was the more effective and nonaddictive alternative to opioids which comes in the form of an ibuprofen and acetaminophen combination. According to Teater, 62 percent of people voiced relief from pain after using the maximum prescribed dosage of 200 mg of ibuprofen combined with 500 mg of acetaminophen. For those who doubled this dosage, that number rose to 72 percent.
The Center for Disease Control states that opioids should only be used to treat pain for three days or less.
“Most outpatient pain can be managed without opioids,” Teater added. “Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are amazing and get people out of hospitals quicker.”
Other techniques for reducing pain include cognitive behavioral therapy, which trains patients how to handle their pain and not panic while in pain; counseling; and distraction, which was used to great effect by giving children with massive burns virtual reality games to play. This distracted them throughout their healing and reduced pain by 80 percent.
Teater even described an encounter he had with a surgeon who stated that opioids were severely needed for people undergoing surgery and no other alternatives would suffice. A while after this encounter, the same man attended another of Teater’s discussions and admitted how wrong he was and praised the effectiveness of the acetaminophen/ibuprofen combo, as it had been incredibly effective when operating on children in Africa, where opioids didn’t exist.
The only times opioids should be used, according to Teater, are for severe trauma and with end-of-life scenarios. He explained how soldiers are given opioids in order to put them in a euphoric state, which can prevent post traumatic stress disorder if administered immediately after a traumatic event. End-of-life scenarios can sometimes call for the use of opioids, but care must be taken, as a quick turnaround in health can leave the recovered person addicted to opioids.
Following a round of questions, Teater ended the discussion by stressing the importance of alternative methods of pain relief and the perks of simple solutions.
“I can’t stress these alternatives enough. Opioids should never be used for long term relief. They just aren’t meant for that,” he said.
To learn more about ATS The Bridge or register for the medical forum, visit www.atsthebridge.org.