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Removing Obstacles to Treatment of Chronic Pain

By Hugh C. McBride

In today's media-saturated world - a place in which it often feels as though every third television commercial or print advertisement is promoting a prescription pill or an over-the-counter drug - it is easy to reach the conclusion that medication is the answer to all of life's aches and pains.

Dr. Timothy Walker knows better.

In his role as medical director of the Twelve Oaks Recovery Center, Dr. Walker has helped hundreds of individuals in their efforts to recover from chronic pain, overcome drug dependency, and end addictions. And though some of his patients do require medication to ease their suffering, many find that their pain subsides after they are weaned from the habit-forming drugs they mistakenly thought they needed.

"A lot of people's pain will get better after detox," Dr. Walker said, describing Twelve Oaks' non-narcotic approach to the treatment of chronic pain as a process of "re-wiring" patients' minds and bodies to reduce their drug dependency and enhance their quality of life. "Chronic pain is a disease entity just like diabetes. Pain and addiction are two separate issues. We emphasize the differences."

THE REALITY OF PAIN

In the popular vernacular, "pain" is used to describe anything from fleeing discomfort to enduring anguish - but within the medical field, this somewhat vague term is delineated by the establishment of two distinct subgroups, "acute" and "chronic":

  • Acute pain - This description is applied to pain that lasts less than six months, and that usually has occurred as a result of trauma, disease, or some other condition that can be addressed and treated. Left untreated or tended to improperly, acute pain can progress into a chronic condition.
  • Chronic pain - Defined as pain that has endured for a minimum of six months, chronic pain continues to exist even after any causal conditions have been remedied. As is evidenced both by the experiences of patients who are treated at Twelve Oaks and by statistics compiled by several medical groups and advocacy organizations, chronic pain can have debilitating effects on an individual's physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life.

One of the first steps in the treatment of chronic pain, Dr. Walker said, is to acknowledge that what the patient is experiencing is real. "Our patients come here angry and frustrated," he said, as many have been told that their conditions are "all in their heads," or that they are exaggerating their symptoms in order to acquire prescription drugs.

According to information on the American Pain Society (APS) website, these frustrations are not uncommon among pain patients, many of whom have encountered significant obstacles in their attempts to receive treatment. The APS site notes the following as three of the most common barriers to effective diagnosis and treatment of pain:

  • Many health care professionals have little or no training in pain management.
  • People affected by pain are not aware that they can ask for pain treatment.
  • Some population groups, including the elderly, women, and members of racial and ethnic minorities, are more likely to be under-treated for pain than others.

To counter their previous negative experiences - and to assure Twelve Oaks clients that they and their health concerns will be treated with the utmost urgency, respect, and professionalism - Dr. Walker and the rest of the treatment team acknowledge that individuals with chronic pain are suffering from conditions that are both legitimate and treatable.

"Our patients are hurting," he said. "They're in real pain."

ADDICTION & DEPENDENCY

Many pain patients, Dr. Walker said, have been "pre-wired" to suffer from chronic pain because of events in their lives that occurred long before the injury or event that produced the initial pain. The following, he said, are among the most common risk factors that indicate a predisposition toward chronic pain:

  • A personal or familial history of addiction
  • The occurrence of significant trauma early in life
  • The existence of a co-occurring psychiatric disorder
  • A history of having been placed on opiates at an early age

Though it is common for pain patients to be described, or to describe themselves, as having become "addicted" to certain substances while attempting to ease their chronic suffering (and while some individuals do, indeed, develop addictions as a result of self-medicating), Dr. Walker is quick to point out that chronic pain and addiction do not always go hand-in-hand.

"We treat chronic pain patients and we treat addicts who suffer from chronic pain," he said, noting that an improper understanding of the clinical definition of addiction results in widespread misuse of the term. "Ninety percent of chronic pain patients are actually what the literature refers to as 'pseudo-addicts,'" he said.

Whether addicted or merely dependent, the pain patients who are treated at Twelve Oaks will learn that the substances they are using to ease their discomfort are likely having the opposite effect, Dr. Walker noted. The vast majority, he said, discover that their suffering subsides significantly following an initial detoxification process. "We see dramatic results within the first three weeks," he said.

TOWARD A PAIN-FREE TOMORROW

By relieving the patients of their dependency upon narcotics or other habit-forming medications, Dr. Walker and the rest of the Twelve Oaks team can then focus on managing, treating, and ultimately overcoming the pain itself.

With a personalized treatment plan that involves individual counseling and group therapy, regular structured physical activity, close medical monitoring, and relapse prevention assistance, the Twelve Oaks program puts chronic pain patients back on the path toward physical and emotional health.

And though the Twelve Oaks recovery process is scientific in nature and specific in focus, the results, Dr. Walker said, transcend the sterile descriptions that often fill medical textbooks and recovery manuals.

"We give them their lives back and we also give them a sense of dignity," he said.

ABOUT TWELVE OAKS

A proud member of the CRC Health Group, the nation's largest chemical dependency and related behavioral health organization, Twelve Oaks Recovery Center is a private, 101-bed facility located on a five-acre campus that borders a sandy beach in the Florida Panhandle.

Licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families and fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, Twelve Oaks provides a serene environment in which clients can begin the recovery process under the care and direction of dedicated and experienced experts in the fields of drug rehabilitation and chronic pain treatment.

To learn more about Twelve Oaks Recovery Center, visit www.twelveoaksrecovery.com.

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