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Health Centers to Offer Opioid-Alternatives for Pain Management

In 2015, 33,000 lives were lost due to opioids in the United States, and community health centers are exploring alternative treatments. (Getty Images)
In 2015, 33,000 lives were lost due to opioids in the United States, and community health centers are exploring alternative treatments. (Getty Images)
May 3, 2017

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Colorado's community health centers are going back in time to help blunt what has been called an opioid epidemic.

Ken Davis, a physician assistant at Northwest Colorado Health in Steamboat Springs, says 15 years ago, health providers used an interdisciplinary approach for pain management, including physical therapy, but that changed when insurance companies – due to rising costs – decided to only pay for pharmaceuticals.

Davis says health centers are uniquely positioned to offer patients alternatives.

"They would rather not be on opioids. If they could get their pain controlled using a different method, I think most people would really choose that option," says Davis.

In 2015, 33,000 lives were lost in the United States due to opioids, which claim the lives of some 91 people every day. According to Davis, drug companies initially told providers opioids posed little risk to patients, but new research shows using opioids to treat chronic pain has more risks than benefits.

In addition to physical therapy, he says community health centers across the state will begin offering services such as acupuncture, counseling and massage therapy. And, since centers have sliding-scale fees, people who normally wouldn't be able to pay out-of-pocket will have access to alternatives.

"One of the biggest drivers in our health outcomes is income," he notes. "Health centers primarily serve lower-income, marginalized populations, so they tend to suffer a little bit more from disease, chronic disease and chronic pain."

Davis adds that stigma is still a significant barrier for people to seek treatment for drug dependency.

"For so long, substance-use disorder addiction has had 'blame and shame' all over it," he says. "It's a chronic, relapsing condition that we need to treat with as many interventions as possible that are safe and effective."

In 2013, Colorado created a consortium to help educate providers and the public about the dangers of opioids, and how to safely dispose of unused pills that could fall into the wrong hands.

A spending bill before Congress calls for $150 million to battle the crisis and improve access to mental-health treatment.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO