Going to the hospital for any problem seems like a one-way ticket to a pill-popping party these days. Have a lingering headache? Here’s a bottle of oxycodone. But did you really need that?
A study published by the 2014 journal Medical Care, reported that doctors often prescribe potentially dangerous drugs to patients who do not actually need them. Their decisions are often affected by the specific medication patients have requested. Through word of mouth and a friend’s left-over pills, people are easily gaining access to hard narcotics with no prior experience with them.
The pharmaceutical industry is estimated to have a 1.25 trillion-dollar net worth in the United States alone. More often than not, it is common for doctors to overprescribe highly addictive opioids such as oxycodone. Even when it is not the best treatment for the patient’s condition, a small suggestion from them has a big influence in the doctor’s decision.
Apparently, it is not that hard to convince a white coat for a white pill.
Fighting the opioid crisis has become one of the hardest challenges the country has to face. Considering that in 2018, the CDC reported 69% of all overdose deaths to be opioid related, it would seem simple enough to stop distributing so many pills.
But, how will big pharmaceutical companies and doctors maintain their income if pills are no longer the focus of treatment?
While there is still a need for doctors to prescribe opioids for certain ailments and diseases, perhaps a different approach can significantly slow down the crisis.
Introducing mindfulness practices to the medical field could potentially improve people’s well-being without the use of opioids. Creating a pathway for people to gain control over their chronic pain.
Mindfulness is a practice that involves the cultivation of experiential awareness of the present moment. Increasing the person’s awareness of sensations, emotions and thoughts without judgement or reactivity. The main goal of mindfulness is to acknowledge and accept that any experience is a passing experience.
Opioids are appealing to many because they block pain messages being sent from the body through the spinal cord to the brain. Mindfulness does the opposite and lets you experience everything for what it is.
Through mindfulness training, genes that are identified for inflammation are significantly reduced after a single session. Inflammatory genes are significant indicators of a wide range of diseases. Though it is not determined if this is medically significant, it is notable to see a dramatic impact on this array of genes.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk meditating for hours to experience these kinds of benefits.
One of the strongest findings of mindfulness is the impact it has on people with chronic pain.
With medicine being the leading modality of treatment in western practice, how far a person’s own efforts can take them is not completely understood. Mindfulness being the positive alternative that can benefit patients, helps change the relationship between emotions and pain.
In a 2017 study, it was found that mindful noticing diminished pain for people with arthritis and chronic pain. And in a pilot study on MS patients, it was found that they experienced relief through the simple process of noticing fluctuations in their symptoms.
Mindfulness does not take the pain away, but rather changes how your brain understands pain.
Instead of it being something to fear, it is something that occurs here and there. Those who routinely practice mindfulness, register the pain physiologically, but do not have an emotional reaction. In chronic pain, physical and emotional pain are intertwined.
Emotional regulation is the key component of chronic pain treatment through mindfulness. Improving one’s ability to control their emotional awareness will lead to a successful transition from medicine dependency. The old relationship with pain is diminished and no longer has meaning to you. Focusing on the present and reassessing patterns of negative thoughts will allow for the substitution of positive thinking habits that reflect reality.
Constantly feeding addictive medicine to the public does not benefit anyone else but the pharmaceutical companies. A shift away from the idea of man-made chemical compounds being the only solution to healing is the change we need to see.
Replacing money with the public’s well-being as grounds for change can reframe the opioid crisis from an individualistic approach to a collectivistic approach.
Opioids are a band-aid solution that allow the infection to continue growing underneath. Mindfulness brings a solution from within for problems medicine cannot reach.
Next time you have a lingering headache, make an effort to see how your body can naturally heal before reaching for the bottle of pills in your medicine cabinet.