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Do Psychiatrists Hold the Keys to Solving Our Opioid Epidemic?

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With a full-blown opioid epidemic on our hands, you might think the level of pain across the nation would be decreasing, but it’s not.

While the sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, there hasn’t been a change in the amount of pain Americans report.

What has changed? The number of deaths from opioid overdose increased.

The question is why?

A Call for Change

An effort to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions is underway. The goal is to reduce painkiller abuse and the number of overdoses, in addition to finding more effective methods of recovery.

Believe it or not, there’s little evidence that opioids actually help chronic pain or improve quality of life. Their long-term use is instead associated with abuse and overdose. Based on these trends, most patients aren’t likely find long-term relief from pain; they’re more likely to find themselves struggling with an addiction.

A Call for Psychiatrists

As we seek solutions to this crisis, one possibility is often overlooked. Psychiatrists could play a bigger role in the lives of chronic pain patients. Their expertise could be extremely valuable in treating people like Kara.

Consider these scenarios:

    • Jim suffers from chronic back pain. Compounding his suffering is an inability to think about anything other than the pain. It consumes his life. Jim begins seeing a psychiatrist for cognitive-behavioral therapy. Through this treatment, Jim learns to change his pain-related thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Recognized as one of the most effective pain treatments, cognitive-behavior therapy gives Jim a shot at living life again – without the pills or the pain.


  • Valery was in car accident five years ago and suffered a traumatic leg injury. Her pain is crippling; it has completely taken over her life. She can no longer play sports or even go for a long walk. Feeling isolated and bored, Valery gets depressed. Her depression continues to worsen until she starts to entertain thoughts of suicide. Valery’s cycle of pain and depression would benefit from a psychiatrist’s intervention. The proper therapy might be the key to setting Valery on a new path to happiness and sobriety.

Additional Reading: Treating Opiate Addiction as an Emergency

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