Here’s good news from our neighbors to the south: Starting in 2016, many Oregon patients with chronic back pain will soon discover a host of new treatment options they previously didn’t have—including chiropractic care.
Beginning next year, the Oregon Health Plan will prioritize chiropractic and other complementary therapies over painkillers or surgery for patients with back pain. It’s a huge shift from the previous policy, which heavily favored narcotics as the first line of defense against pain.
For many patients, painkillers were the only option. Of the 8 percent of Oregon Health Plan patients who sought back pain treatment in 2013, only a narrow sliver met the plan’s requirements for chiropractic care, while more than half received narcotics.
“There should be an array of things for people to choose from, whether it be chiropractic care, naturopathic care, acupuncture, nutrition or massage,” said Dr. Dave Eisen, executive director of The Quest Center for Integrative Health in Portland. “If they don’t work, you use opioids … as a last resort,” he said.
Under the new policy, Oregon Health Plan patients will be able to receive chiropractic treatment—as well as acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, osteopathic manipulation, and physical and occupational therapy—up to 30 times a year.
Using narcotics as a long-term treatment for chronic pain opens the door to addiction, and health care providers estimate as many as a quarter of patients on long-term opioid treatment end up abusing the drugs.
In fact, officials believe using painkillers as the go-to treatment for back pain may have contributed to Oregon’s status as the nation’s leader in opioid abuse. More than 900,000 Oregonians received opioid prescriptions in 2012.
Addiction risks aside, chiropractic care simply works better, chiropractic officials note. While painkillers merely mask the symptoms without addressing the underlying problem, chiropractic treatment aims to heal the imbalance that’s causing the chronic pain.
There’s plenty of research to back up the Oregon Health Plan’s decision. A 2003 study found that spinal manipulation offers greater short-term back pain relief than a variety of medications, and in 2004 researchers found chiropractic care more effective than medical care at treating chronic lower back pain.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recently released the results of a National Health Interview Survey on the “Use of Complementary Health Approaches in the U.S.” Visit their site to see the results regarding the “Estimates of Pain Prevalence and Severity in Adults.”