Fighting Pain Without the Pills

The Wisconsin Department of Health calls it a public health crisis: the misuse of pain killers. 

With opioids' clear connection to heroin use and abuse, doctors are now trying to urge patients to explore ways to treat the pain without the pills.

"Historically physicians didn't understand the risk associated with opioid medications, there was some misinformation," said Dr. Andy Anderson, chief medical officer at Aurora Health Care. 

But years later after seeing patients so addicted they're switching to heroin, doctors are calling for change. 

"We've really learned that these types of medications do cause long term problems and they're really not good long term solutions," he said. 

Bethany Zimple  couldn't agree more. 

Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1998, she's dealt with chronic pain for years, so bad she cannot work. 

The answer back then? Vicoden.  

"I was prescribed to take it one every six hours but I really just felt I didn't need to take it that often,and I just didn't want to feel that dopey feeling throughout my life," said Zimple. 

The busy volunteer at the Wisconsin Humane Society instead sought out the help of a pain clinic; initially worried they'd just suggest more medication
and was pleasantly surprised at the options suggested by her doctor.

"He has prescribed me with physical therapy, he's actually helped refer me to a neurologist for my other issues, he's prescribed me a high dose of vitamins, vitamin D. We've never discussed narcotics," said Zimple. 

Anderson says its all part of a push by both doctors and Wisconsin lawmakers to better manage their patients already on opioid painkillers. They say pain is a real issue and for some people, the drugs are necessary, but for more minor cases they should be a last resort. 

"Pain clinics now are much more focused on other means of relieving pain. Sometimes its other alternative therapies like acupuncture or massage," said Anderson. 

As for Zimple, she's seen the change firsthand and feels confident her health is in the right hands. 

"It gives me hopes that there are doctors out there that care," she said, 

And there's more evidence of that: Most emergency rooms in the area will not write a prescription for pain medications and the state is clamping down on addicts. 

A national database is being created to share prescription information-so no matter what doctor you go to-they wont give you a fresh prescription for pain medications. 

If you'd like to hear the story from someone who knows firsthand just how dangerous opioid prescription pain killers can be, you'll have the opportunity to do so this fall. 

The Medical Society of Milwaukee is bringing in Patrick Kennedy to Milwaukee on September 19th at the Italian Conference Center to talk about his personal story with prescription drugs and related personal and family mental health struggles.  

Tickets are available through this website:

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