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Prince's Death: Wake-Up Call That Pain Meds Can Do More Harm Than Good

(Copyright Associated Press)

By    |   Thursday, 02 June 2016 02:56 PM

Autopsy results showing Prince died of an opioid overdose should be a wake-up about the dangers of prescription pain meds and drive patients — and the doctors who treat them — to seek out safer, non-drug alternatives that are often better options, health experts say.

More than 125 million Americans spend in excess of $300 billion on pain treatments each year, according to a sweeping new Consumer Reports analysis released within weeks of Prince’s death April 21. But the review found non-drug alternatives — including exercise, psychotherapy, and even simply drinking water — are often as just effective (or more so) in alleviating pain.

The upshot: Much of the costly medical care provided to millions of Americans suffering from persistent and chronic pain may be doing them more harm than good — as Prince’s death dramatically demonstrates.

“Consumers may be surprised to learn that for some pain conditions, non-drug treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, or just drinking water, may be as effective as medication,” said Lisa Gill, deputy content editor for Consumer Reports’ Best Buy Drugs. “In some cases the medication can have the opposite effect, and can cause the very same pain you’re trying to treat.”

Autopsy results released Thursday confirmed that Prince, who was found dead at his Minneapolis-area estate, died from an overdose of pain medications he may have been taking for a hip problem.

The 57-year-old musician died less than a week after his plane made an emergency stop in Moline, Ill., for medical treatment after an Atlanta concert. Medics reportedly gave him a shot of Narcan, an antidote used in suspected opioid overdoses.

Prince’s death came one month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for doctors prescribing opioid medications for chronic pain. Those guidelines aim to combat pain-med overdoses in the U.S., which have tripled since 1990 and doubled in just the last 16 years.

“The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths,” said CDC researcher Rose A. Rudd and colleagues in a new agency report on the growing problem. “Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137 percent, including a 200 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including pain relievers).”

The CDC guidelines advise doctors to prescribe other non-drug remedies first before turning to pain meds for patients — and even then, to use the lowest effective dose.

The new Consumer Reports analysis of painkillers echoed the CDC’s findings, reporting more than 14,000 Americans die from overdoses involving prescription opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) each year. Other findings:
  • More than 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms every day for misusing pain medication.
  • A growing body of research has shown that over the long-term opioid medications don’t help people with chronic pain find relief as well as once believed and, instead, expose them to the risk of overdose and addiction.
  • Although medical marijuana legal many states for pain treatment, it carries risks. About 376,000 people went to emergency rooms in 2009 for anxiety attacks, cardiac issues, and accidents related to being under the influence.
The new report — available in the June issue of the magazine and online — also includes a guide to common pain drugs (such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and oxycodone), other medical treatments (including steroid or Botox injections), and alternative therapies (like acupuncture, biofeedback, and massage).

In addition, Consumer Reports provides details on what pain suffers can do to safety treat, prevent, and manage discomfort. Among the editors’ recommendations and others based on experts’ guidelines:
  • Try gentle exercise first, before painkillers, to treat knee and joint pain. Doing so can be as helpful as medications by boosting natural endorphins (feel-good chemicals) that alleviate pain.
  • Strengthening and stretching neck muscles can ease neck and shoulder pain as effectively as drugs.
  • Correct poor posture, don’t over exert yourself, manage stress, and be sure to get a good night’s sleep (in the right sleeping position) to prevent or ease chronic pain.
  • Don’t overuse over-the-counter pain drugs, which can contribute to headaches. In fact, medications like Advil and Aleve can actually trigger headaches known as “rebound headaches”) if you take them more than a few times in a week.
  • Dehydration can cause pain, including headaches, so be sure to drink plenty of water, especially when in hot climates or exercising.
  • Bed rest for lower back pain is actually bad idea. Being immobile can prolong the pain. It’s better to do gentle movement like walking, swimming or yoga to gradually reduce pain and speed recovery.
  • Meditation and other cognitive mind-body approaches that ease the mind — hypnosis, biofeedback — can cut pain as effectively as meds, according to new research out of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
  • Many studies have found classical yoga poses help arthritis patients and those with back/neck/nee pain.
  • New techniques involving nerve or spinal-cord stimulation has been shown to help people with more serious problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Using cold packs or heat can treating painful backs, knees or joints. The old image of an icepack on a head for hangover has, at least, a partial scientific basis.
In addition, CR advises pain sufferers to work closely with their healthcare professionals to come up with a plan to effectively treat it. It’s important to understand that pain is not something to simply get rid of, but the body’s way of signaling that something is wrong, experts say.

“Effectively handling pain means listening to those signals and addressing the underlying cause of pain,” the CR report’s authors note.

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Prince's reported death from an overdose of painkillers spotlights the dangers of powerful prescription pain meds and should drive patients and doctors to seek out safer non-drug alternatives, health experts say. Here's a roundup of better options than medication for treating pain.
prince, overdose, death, pain, medication, alternatives
Thursday, 02 June 2016 02:56 PM
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