How Catastrophic is the Opioid Crisis?

Record levels of overdose and addiction due to prescription painkillers

Opioid use dates back to 3400 B.C, and they have been an extremely effective source of pain relief for decades. So, isn’t it ironic that a brilliant form of medical help is actually the number one cause of accidental death in the United States?

Unfortunately, people accidentally overdosing on prescription painkillers has reached an all-time high. In fact, medical experts are actually branding it as an ‘opioid epidemic’.

This article sheds come light on the alarming facts and figures surrounding opioid use and why they are being prescribed in the first place.

What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drug that act on the nervous system to relieve pain. Illicit drugs such as heroin and legal prescription medications such as oxycodone, codeine and morphine are included in this class.

The Facts and Figures Define the Problem

If you look at research conducted by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the number one cause of accidental death is drug overdose. The following figures define the scope of this ‘epidemic’:

  • 52, 404 Americans died from lethal drug overdose in 2015 (1)
    • 20, 101 overdose deaths due to prescription painkillers
    • 12,990 overdose deaths due to heroin (2)
  • X4 increase in the overdose death rate between 1999 and 2008

The figures show a larger number of deaths from over-the-counter prescription medications, not from illicit drugs. These prescription medications are the same ones found in most households across the country.

Of concern is that the crisis shows no signs of easing up. How is this happening and what needs to be done to turn things around?

What are prescription painkillers used for?

We know the number of deaths from opioid over-prescription is alarming. However, Australia’s Penington Institute (3) believes the situation in Australia is much, much worse. To put it into perspective; a huge 69{45a6d239caf5e6f4a9bda45040026bf2e544857e17d2f8c0a0ce5b109ad81c69} of drug-related death there are from prescription painkillers.

Although, other than for cancer treatment, the second major reason for painkiller prescriptions is musculoskeletal pain. This includes common ailments such as back and neck pain. Subsequently, there must be more emphasis on seeking out new options to assist those with musculoskeletal issues. Indeed, healthcare professionals across numerous specialities are trying to raise awareness of this problem, including chiropractors, who specialise in musculoskeletal problems.

A little bit about musculoskeletal pain…

Musculoskeletal pain is often caused by injury or stress to the bones, joints, muscles, connective tissues and nerves. Factors that contribute to this type of pain may include:

  • Poor posture
  • Repetitive strain
  • Heavy lifting
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Sports injury

Chiropractic care is an excellent treatment option for these types of pains.

Not only will chiropractors work to address your pain, reducing the need for highly addictive opioids, they’ll aim to determine the underlying cause, hopefully providing longer-term relief.

How effective are opioids for pain relief?

Essentially, opioids are designed to mask feelings of pain to thereby improve quality of life for the sufferer. But, when it comes to more serious bouts of pain; opioids are usually ineffective as either the pain won’t subside, or the individual will become addicted.

While there is general scientific consensus on their use as a treatment for cancer pains, there remains a question on their long-term use for chronic non-cancer pain. This has caused great controversy amongst healthcare professionals.

An article published in the Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology journal reviewed the situation with opioids and found current studies do not provide sufficient evidence of long-term effectiveness. Rather, a trend of overtreatment is emerging, leaving in it’s wake record levels of addiction and overdose.

Think about this: would routinely taking a painkiller ever address possible underlying causes of the pain? No.

A more natural alternative

So, should more natural methods of pain management, such as chiropractic treatment, be considered in cases of musculoskeletal pain? What about patients being referred to a chiropractor in the first instance?

Attending a chiropractor may allow you to avoid drug use completely. Therefore, you won’t experience any side effects that you may be vulnerable to with painkillers.

So, when musculoskeletal issues are concerned, natural therapies are being utilized more and more to relieve pain and combat the opioid crisis. This is great as many people believe without painkillers they’ll have to suffer, but chiropractic treatment proves that is far from correct.

Is it time for a change?

Yes, opioids can be an effective form of pain relief if everything goes to plan. But, the drastic rise in prescription painkiller overdose highlights the fact that we need to explore new approaches to pain management. When addiction is a huge risk, it would be wise to utilize treatments that are drug-free, such as a chiropractor.

Ultimately, if you’re struggling to handle pain and you don’t want to risk becoming addicted to painkillers, then why not opt for more natural options? Just give your local chiropractor a call, and query the services that they provide.


  2. Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:1445–1452. DOI:
  3. Penington Institute Australia’s Annual Overdose Report – 2016. Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
  4. Rosenblum A, Marsch LA, Joseph H, Portenoy RK. Opioids and the Treatment of Chronic Pain: Controversies, Current Status, and Future Directions. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology. 2008;16(5):405-416. doi:10.1037/a0013628.
  5. New World Chiro