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Finding Pain Relief Alternatives in the Face of Growing Opioid Addiction

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A third of overdose deaths in the U.S. last year were due to the abuse of perscription pain killers.

Patient pain is one of the trickiest things for medical professionals to manage, especially with the perception of pain varying so greatly from person to person. However controlling pain, especially long-term pain, is crucial for healing and quality of life.

Opioids, like morphine and its derivatives, are extremely effective pain suppressants. But they are also highly addictive as they lose their effectiveness over time.

Dr. Jeremy Scarlett, an anesthesiologist with Advanced Pain Management in Sheboygan, focuses on pain relief alternatives that have as little long-term consequences as possible.

"What we've discovered is as we've liberalized the amount of opioids that we've prescribed since the early nineties, there's been a huge increase in the amount of addiction issues, as well as the amount of people that - even if they're not addicted - take too high a dose of the pain killers," Scarlett says.

Dr. Scarlett emphasizes looking at the larger picture when it comes to patients and medications. Part of this issue is the amount of time doctors spend with their patients to evaluate their addiction risk profile based on genetics, life events that change the neurobiological makeup, and age.

He says there need to a balance between short-term pain relief and long-term solutions.

"You have to explain to people up front that I'm not just going to give you the pill that's going to work today, I'm going to give you a pill that needs to build up in your system and work over time," says Scarlett. "In the long run, you're not going to face a lot of the risks of addiction if we're able to wean the opioid off."

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.