Opioids put "County in Crisis"

Pain Interventionist provides insight

WILKES-BARRE TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) -- It's no secret Pennsylvania has a serious opioid abuse problem. In Luzerne County alone, pain medication overdoses in 2016 were blamed for more than 27 hospital admissions for every 100,000 residents. 

A public discussion Thursday night called "County In Crisis: The Opioid Epidemic" aimed to provide solutions to the opioid epidemic. A pain management specialist who was chosen for the panel provided insight into this devastating problem.

"I don't think we knew then what we know now looking back as far as how bad some of these medicines are." Dr. Christopher Connor, D.O. of Northeastern Rehabilitation Associates in Wilkes-Barre Township described the opioid epidemic as something decades in the making. Blaming "Big Pharma", overprescription and patient abuse, the problem escalated to what we see today. "The number of people who previously and even currently are on these medicines is pretty startling."

2016 statewide data shows the average age for pain medication overdose patients in Pennsylvania was 54. It's a disturbing statistic that Dr. Connor says is fueled by a failed treatment strategy. "There was a big push for pain to become the fifth vital sign and as we know pain, it's a subjective thing. There's no objective way to truly measure it."

Dr. Connor says many patients with chronic pain find success through injections, physical therapy and even massage, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. Solving opioid dependency, he says, requires educating patients that painkillers will not provide the long-term relief that works best.

Even though he and other physicians can recommend pain treatment options other than opioids, Dr. Connor says it will take the cooperation of the insurance industry to help break the cycle of opioid addiction. "One of the limitations is sometimes coverage of some of those options with insurance and I think that's where we're going to see some changes in the landscape of medicine over the next few years."

Change is what's vital, Dr. Connor says, to reduce opioid misuse and addiction. "When we look at the opioids and the evidence for using the opioids in people who have chronic pain, there is no good evidence for it ." 

Luzerne County reported 139 fatal drug overdoses in 2016. Compare that to 20 years ago when there were 12 drug-related deaths in the county.

The Luzerne County Medical Society and the Luzerne County Bar Association teamed up for the panel discussion "County In Crisis: The Opioid Epidemic". Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller served as the moderator.


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