South Nevada VA Pushes for Alternative Chronic Pain Treatment

Back pain. Chronic pain after an injury or surgery. Pain related to a chronic or terminal illness.

There are a number of scenarios in which pain management is medically necessary. Without it, many patients may be nonfunctional, or they may be unable to carry out basic tasks or care for themselves.


But the problem is that use of painkillers, often the first line of defense in pain management, can cause problems of its own. Many patients find that use of these drugs causes them to be just as nonfunctional – lethargic, constipated, “out of it,” unable to concentrate or remember anything, or drive safely.

Then, there is the specter of addiction and accidental overdose that strikes far too many who become dependent on their painkiller prescriptions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 15,000 Americans die every year due to a prescription painkiller overdose. Additionally, the CDC reports that Nevada is a state suffering from one of the highest rates of painkiller overdose deaths in the country: between 14.9 and 27 deaths per 100,000 residents. The rates of deaths among veterans who are being treated for pain with addictive and potentially deadly painkillers is high as well – higher than among the general population.

It is for this reason that the VA in southern Nevada is actively working to push for alternative treatment measures that are nonaddictive and safer to help patients manage the issue of chronic pain.

Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI)

The Opioid Safety Initiative is a program that the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System has recently implemented with the goal of giving Vietnam vets who are being treated for chronic pain the opportunity to make use of alternative pain management options that are safer and come with less risk. The program has been implemented at eight sites in Minnesota with great success – a reduction of high-dose opiate use by more than 50 percent. Many who are taking part in the program through the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System are also finding that they are able to lower their dose of painkillers considerably, if not stop taking them completely.

Alternative Pain Management Options

In most cases, there is not one single pain management measure that is effective in helping people who struggle with chronic pain to decrease their experience of pain and thus decrease the need for high-dose painkillers. Many patients find that a combination of any of the following are helpful:

  • Acupuncture
  • Body massage
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Dietary and nutritional changes
  • Weight management
  • Herbal remedies and supplements

Perception of Pain

Ultimately, everyone’s experience of pain will be different. Consider, for example, that some find the pain of getting a tattoo unbearable while others do not give it a second thought. This means that a unique pain management regimen will be necessary for each and every patient, and that regimen will need to be monitored and adjusted regularly.

Similarly, the use of painkillers will impact patients differently as well. Many can walk out of a doctor’s office with a prescription for opiate painkillers, take them for a time, and then wean themselves off without ever developing a problem or experiencing overdose. Others, however, develop an addiction within weeks, and those who take these medications for long periods of time are at higher risk for both painkiller overdose and a debilitating addiction.

It is important to be aware that chronic pain will not disappear overnight in any circumstance. Time and persistence are necessary to address the cause of the pain and to manage factors that worsen pain. For example, someone who struggles with knee pain due to an injury may find that acupuncture and physical therapy are helpful but gain the most results after a year of healthy weight loss that ends with them at a healthy weight that does not put undue stress on the injured knee.

Additionally, it is important to note that physical pain can manifest from mental health issues as well. It is important to identify and treat any and all co-occurring mental health disorders or symptoms as part of a comprehensive alternative pain management program. Not only can this limit the experience of pain if associated with a mental health disorder, it can also increase the ability of the person to stay dedicated to a program of pain management that does not include painkillers.

Is someone you love struggling with painkiller addiction or abuse?