We’ve all heard about the opioid crisis, but what are opioids, and why are they such a big problem?

Opioids are basically a type of painkilling drug. No one likes pain, right? So why wouldn’t you want to take drugs to help relieve it? I am going to answer that question by asking another question.

Do you think heroin, which is an opioid drug, is good for you? In the event you are unsure how to answer that question, let me first list some of the effects of taking heroin… nausea and vomiting, itching, insomnia, infections, abscesses, constipation, liver, kidney, and lung disease, mental problems, problems with sexual function, and to cap it off… death. And I am not just talking about a few deaths; heroin kills thousands of people every single year. I think we would all agree that this highly addictive drug is bad for you.

Well, you might be surprised to know that heroin was produced over 100 years ago by pharmaceutical companies as an alternative to morphine, because morphine, which is also a pain killer and another opioid drug, was causing too many problems with addictions and overdoses. It was thought at the time that heroin was less addictive than morphine, so it would be a better option. That thinking was simply wrong.

Chiropractic care is well known to help people who suffer from headaches and neck and back pain.

You may be wondering why I keep talking about heroin? Well, if we fast forward to about 20 years ago, new types of opioid drugs began to emerge and they were thought to be more beneficial and less addictive than heroin.

You might have heard the names of some of these drugs:

  • Tramadol
  • Oxycontin
  • Codeine
  • Vicodin

In reality, modern-day opioid drugs are similar to slow-release heroin – they are highly addictive and associated with major withdrawal symptoms, and they kill thousands of people every single year.1,2 When they were released, these new opioid drugs were falsely marketed to doctors as being an effective pain reliever with a low risk of addiction3 and they quickly gained popularity for the treatment of chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that has been around for more than 3 months. As it turns out, opioid drugs provide minimal relief for long-term pain like arthritis or chronic back pain4,5. In fact, there is no good quality scientific evidence that shows they have good, long-term benefits for managing pain.6 What there is good evidence of is prescription opioids cause significant harm and thousands of deaths every year. 6,7 In 2018, there were almost 50,000 opioid overdose deaths in the US alone!8

So, I think we can all agree that opioids should not be your first-choice option when you are in pain and should be avoided whenever possible because there are much better choices out there!8

So, what can you do if you are in pain? Current guidelines promote avoiding drugs and surgery if you have pain, and instead one of your first line choices should be to see a manual therapist, like a chiropractor.8

Chiropractic care is well known in the research literature to help people who suffer from neck pain,9-11 back pain,12-13, and headaches.14 And research has shown us that people who go to see a chiropractor are far less likely to take opioid medication. In fact, a large recent high-quality study reviewed all the scientific evidence about opioid use in people who see a chiropractor.15 When the researchers in this study put all the evidence together, they found that people with back pain who saw a chiropractor were 64% less likely to receive an opioid prescription. Considering how harmful opioid medications can be, this is an important finding!

 Research has shown us that people who go to see a chiropractor are far less likely to take opioid medication.

If you see a chiropractor when you are in pain, you are much less likely to need to take opioid drugs. That has got to be a good thing for you! And do not forget that chiropractic care has so much more to offer than just helping you with your chronic pain. Chiropractic care is all about improving the communication between your brain and body so you can function at your best.

If you are suffering from pain, do not reach for a pill bottle – instead, do your best to stay positive, move often, eat well, sleep well, and go see your family chiropractor.

Check out the video about the opioid epidemic and how chiropractic care can be an effective solution for those experiencing chronic pain….

  1. Wolfe S, et al. Connecticut medicine 2016;80(6):325-34.
  2. Florence CS, et al. Med Care 2016;54(10).
  3. Huyler F. New York Times 2016.
  4. Osani MC, et al. Arthritis Care Res Epub 2020/06/26.
  5. Mathieson S, et al. J Intern Med 2020;287(5).
  6. CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain 2016.
  7. CDC Prescription Opioid Overdose Data
  8. Shobbrook M, et al Chiro J Aus 2020;47(1).
  9. Gross A, et al Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2015(9)
  10. Gross A, et al. Man Ther 2010;15(4).
  11. Bryans R, et al. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2014;37(1).
  12. Goertz CM, et al. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2012;22(5).
  13. Ruddock JK, et al. J Chiropr Med 2016;15(3).
  14. Bryans R, et al. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2011;34(5).
  15. Corcoran KL, et al. Pain Med 2020;21(2)
  • Heidi Haavik – BSc(Physiol) BSc(Chiro) PhD
  • Kelly Holt – BSc, BSc(Chiro), PGDipHSc, PhD
  • Jenna Duehr – BChiro, BHSC (Nursing), MHSc