Patients are supposed to trust their doctors. So, when your doctor writes you a prescription, you usually don’t question it; you fill it, take it, and hope that it will make you better. But, what happens when a prescription turns into an addiction? Unfortunately, millions of Americans have learned the answer to that question the hard way.

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The Painkiller Problem

As the APTA explains in a recent position paper titled, “Opioid Abuse and the Role of Physical Therapy,” in 2012 alone, healthcare providers wrote more than 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications—including Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana, methadone, and combination drugs like Percocet. That’s “enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills,” the paper notes. And while those drugs can be a highly effective—some might even say necessary—part of many patients’ pain management treatment plans, they come with some pretty serious risks. According to the APTA:

  • Up to 1 in 4 patients receiving prescription opioids on a long-term basis for noncancer pain in a primary care setting struggles with addiction.
  • Those addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to develop an addiction to heroin.
  • Overdoses of opioid pain medications have contributed to more than 165,000 deaths in the US since 1999.

The Opioid Alternative

Those are some pretty grim statistics—and they prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to release new guidelines recommending the use of non-drug treatment alternatives to addictive prescription painkillers. And as all of us in the PT space already know, one of those alternatives is physical therapy treatment: “Nonpharmacologic therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapy are preferred for chronic pain,” the guidelines state. “The contextual evidence review found that many nonpharmacologic therapies, including physical therapy, weight loss for knee osteoarthritis, psychological therapies such as [cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT], and certain interventional procedures can ameliorate chronic pain.”

The problem is, not all providers and patients are aware of how effective physical therapists are at treating and alleviating chronic pain. That’s why the APTA has launched its #ChoosePT campaign: to educate both the healthcare community and the general public about the danger of opioid abuse as well as the pain-relieving power of physical therapy. After all, if you give a patient a pill, you can ease pain for a day; but if you give a patient therapy targeted to the underlying issue causing the discomfort, you can prevent pain for a lifetime. In the APTA’s words, “Physical therapists are movement experts who treat pain through movement, rather than just masking the sensation of pain.”

The #ChoosePT Movement

In addition to getting the word out, the APTA is actively working to promote legislation that will allow greater patient access to physical therapy services, including policies to:

  • Eliminate the therapy cap.
  • Enhance patient access to physical therapy.
  • Improve insurance coverage of physical therapy services.
  • Establish fair copays for physical therapy services.
  • Empower all therapists to practice to their full potential as doctorate-level providers.
  • Allow patients full control over choosing their physical therapists.

The APTA also has voiced its support of the John Thomas Decker Act (HR 4969), which would direct the CDC to provide student athletes, parents, guardians, and coaches with educational materials about the dangers of opioid painkillers and the alternative, nondrug forms of treatment that are available.

Want to do your part in bringing attention to—and fighting against—America’s opioid epidemic? Here’s what you can do:

  • Educate your patients on the risks associated with opioid use and abuse.
  • Ask questions geared toward identifying opioid misuse or abuse—and refer patients to the appropriate provider as necessary.
  • Promote the effectiveness of physical therapy treatment as an alternative—or supplement—to painkillers. (Check out the evidence-based resources on the treatment of pain and chronic conditions.)
  • Encourage patients to download and complete the Pain Profile, so they can use it to facilitate treatment conversations with their healthcare providers.
  • Join the conversation on social media using #ChoosePT. (Check out this page for shareable facts and stats.)
  • Check out additional ways to get involved here.

Physical therapists have always been important members of the healthcare community. They achieve incredible, life-changing outcomes every day. But now, they have the opportunity to not only change lives, but save them. Will you join the fight?

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