Treating Pain Without Painkillers

A new Boston Globe article discusses the dangers of our society’s increasing dependence on painkillers.  Patients often want and at times demand a quick solution to their problems, but treating pain is typically much more complicated than writing a simple prescription.   In fact, chronic narcotic medication use has been shown to reduce people’s pain tolerance and increase their sensitivity to pain.  Recent surges in heroin use have also been partially attributed to the increasing prevalence of chronic prescription narcotic painkiller use.

The author highlights the fact that a proactive role by patients should be taken.  The body’s own ability to manage pain can be incredible, as seen in Dr. Henry Beecher’s pioneering work on the placebo effect during World War II.  Most people think of a placebo effect as an ineffective response or non-response to a treatment, but in fact it is much more substantial and shows the body’s ability to cope with pain, as highlighted in several medical articles as well as recent news pieces, including NPR pieces (2012 and 2014) and podcast.

Pain medications certainly have their role in specific conditions and cases, but the increasing and over reliance on painkillers by patients is a concern that physicians, patients, and people in general should be aware of.