Faces of Heroin: Doctors taking new approach to pain management

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - With prescription pills known as a gateway drug to heroin, doctors are taking a new approach to pain management.

When a patient comes to see Dr. Rashid Kahlil, a pain management physician for Mercy Health, they're at their wits end.

Most hope a magic pill will make them feel normal again. But Dr. Kahlil says the patients may have already spent months, even years, taking narcotics before seeing him.

"Overtime you are developing a tolerance to the medication. and your tolerance for the medication is going down and down, this is a vicious cycle," explains Dr. Kahlil.

Opioids force your brain to release dopamine, which makes you feel happy or satisfied. But over time, doses of these medications need to be increased for a patient to feel the same relief.

"So doctors keep bumping up and bumping up the dose until they are uncomfortable with that dose," he adds.

So now, before prescribing these highly addictive medications, doctors are looking at alternatives for pain management.

Sara Pape, a Physical Therapist at Mercy Health Perrysburg Outpatient Rehab and Therapy, has noticed doctors writing more scripts for therapy instead of pills.

"When people come to therapy, they can see drastic changes fairly quickly," said Pape. "And obviously, when they are taking medication, our hope is to get them off medication to the point they don't need it anymore."

Newer techniques, like cupping and dry needling, are giving patients a second chance at living pain-free.

"By inserting the needle, it creates blood flow to the area like it is a new injury," said Pape.

Cupping on the other hand works on tightness, injuries and areas where nerves are pinched to help stretch the tissue and create more blood flow.

Garth Longstreet, and physical therapist assistant with Mercy Health, said aquatic therapy is also being considered over medications for patients with chronic knee or back pain, along with surgical patients.

"Buoyance helps take that weight off the joints 92 degrees in the pool," said Longstreet. "It's a heated pool, water helps relax the muscles, less pain associated with all their movements."

When chronic pain is involved, many are resistant to putting the time into therapy that can produce more pain before it's relieved. But doctors and therapists like Longstreet say it beats a lifelong battle with addiction.

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