Pain doctor and patient say long-term opioids cause pain, urge a - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Pain doctor and patient say long-term opioids cause pain, urge alternatives


An overdose of opioids, the family of prescription drugs used to treat chronic pain, is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

Wednesday, Channel 4 heard from the U.S. Surgeon General, who was in Nashville to discuss the epidemic.

But one patient and her doctors said it was the opioids that led to her most excruciating pain.

Now they're out to educate the masses on effective alternatives.

In 2002, Cynthia Tieck's spinal cord was crushed in a freak accident. She was put on opioids for pain control.

Instead of getting better, the Nashville woman got much worse.

“I was basically non-functional," said Tieck. "I couldn't stand without support. I had a tremendous amount of pain. I had just about basically every test in the book and was basically written off as a fruitcake."

After more than a decade on opioids, her doctors eventually concluded that it was the opioids that causing her pain.

"When you're on opioids long term, they have the ability to change your brain chemistry and cause reverse pain syndrome," Tieck explained. "So basically, the very drugs they were giving me to control my pain, was actually making it worse. But I was afraid to stop, because I thought the pain was going to get worse."

In 2014, Tieck faced her fears and stopped taking the drugs.

"The bottom line is, I got better," Tieck said. "Within 24 hours of going off the long-term medication, which I tapered off at pain clinic at Vanderbilt, I was a completely different person."

Within one week, Tieck said she went from needing ski poles just to stand, to walking a half-mile on her own.

"Long term, these opioids can actually change the way your body processes pain and lead to worsening pain, and lead to problems with mood and sleep and immune function and sexual function," said Dr. Tracy Jackson, a chronic pain specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Jackson said opioids are wrongfully perceived as the strongest or only way to manage severe, chronic pain.

In reality, she said evidence-based techniques such as meditation, movement and breathing can be more effective and durable treatments in the long run.

She presented the findings in a recent TEDx Talk taped in Nashville.

"The vast majority of data will show that patient's pain will either be no worse or in most cases be significantly better by doing nothing but coming off their opioid medications," Jackson explained.

"There's a lot of things you can do to mentally that help you control pain," said Tieck. "I wouldn't go back where I was before for any reason."

Tieck, who is back to being an avid hiker, said mindfulness and movement exercises have worked miracles for managing her chronic pain that she and millions of others may have never had to endure in the first place, if doctors had been more educated on the long-term effects of opioids.

Vanderbilt will be offering two pilot "functional rehabilitation" programs to teach chronic pain patients how to reduce pain, improve mood and function and get people back to work. Jackson will also be holding "Relief Retreats” for living beyond pain at healing retreat centers around the country, including in Tennessee. These retreats have a similar evidence-based holistic approach with long-term web-based follow-up after patients return home.

Jackson reminds patients they have a choice and don't always need to follow a physician's suggestions to take pills or have medical procedures to feel better.

To contact the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt and learn more about the programs offered, click here.

To contact the Vanderbilt Pain Clinic, call 615-322-4311.

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