Chiropractic: A Safer Strategy Than Opioids

Authored by:

  • Laura Carabello, Principal, CPR Strategic Marketing Communications
  • Gerard Clum, DC, President Emeritus, Life Chiropractic College West and Director, The Octagon, Life University
  • William Meeker, DC, MPH, President, Palmer College of Chiropractic – San Jose Campus


The U.S. has awakened on every level to the crushing impact of the opioid use/abuse epidemic. Calls have come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for a shift away from opioid use toward non-pharmacologic approaches to address chronic pain.

An important non-pharmacologic approach in helping to solve this crisis is chiropractic care.

Americans Want and Deserve Chiropractic Care

For the overwhelming number of people who suffer with chronic pain, chiropractic care offers a drug-free, non-invasive and cost-effective alternative to opioid drugs. The time has come for putting patient safety and health above self-interest and profits.

  • Physicians who persist in dangerous prescribing patterns must heed CDC guidelines and begin prescribing safer alternatives such as chiropractic care for chronic pain management.
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers must take stock of the havoc and dire outcomes that have been created by their opioid products – and institute more responsible marketing and physician education that will result in improved prescribing habits.
  • Hospital emergency rooms should introduce options for managing patients’ pain without the use of opioid painkillers.
  • Payers and plan sponsors – both government and commercial – can improve member satisfaction with benefits programs by making chiropractic care an accessible, affordable option for chronic pain relief, with reimbursement of doctors of chiropractic as covered providers.
  • Musculoskeletal pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the active military and veteran populations. Consequently, chiropractic services should be expanded in the Department of Defense and veteran’s health care systems.

Chiropractic is the largest, most regulated, and best recognized of the integrative health care professions. In fact, patient surveys reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine show that chiropractors are used more often than any other alternative provider group and patient satisfaction with chiropractic care is very high.

Non-Pharmacologic Approaches – The First Options in Dealing With Chronic Pain

At the intersection of these momentous and much needed recommendations is the use of safe and effective, conservative care options prior to prescribing addictive and potentially fatal opioids. Chiropractic care is a hands on, non-invasive approach documented to be effective in the acute and chronic neuro-musculoskeletal pain environment, yielding improved clinical outcomes, reduced costs and high levels of patient satisfaction.

Chiropractic care takes on even greater importance when one considers the opportunity it offers to potentially avoid the risks of prescription opioids: misuse, abuse, and opioid use disorder (addiction). In 2014, almost two million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids. As many as one in four people who receive prescription opioids long-term for non-cancer pain in primary care settings struggle with addiction.

The problem remains that opioids frequently are prescribed for acute and subacute low back pain, despite low quality or inconclusive supporting evidence regarding their use in this circumstance. Furthermore, there are no randomized control trials that have shown opioids to improve function.

Prevalence of Back and Neck Pain, Headaches and Neuro-Musculoskeletal Conditions

The importance of chiropractic care is further amplified since many individuals are prescribed opioids for back, low back and neck pain, headaches, neuro-musculoskeletal conditions and other related conditions.

An estimated 126.6 million Americans (one in two adults) are affected by a musculoskeletal condition— comparable to the total percentage of Americans living with a chronic lung or heart condition—costing an estimated $213 billion in annual treatment, care and lost wages.

Back and neck pain affects nearly one in three, or 75.7 million adults in the U.S. Additional reports from the CDC confirm that 17 percent of adults have experienced a migraine or severe headache, 15 percent have experienced pain in the neck area, 29 percent had experienced pain in the lower back, and 5 percent had experienced pain in the face or jaw area.

Collectively, this data adds up to millions of Americans who suffer with chronic pain related to specific conditions – people who could potentially find relief with chiropractic care and benefit from improved overall health.

Chiropractic Care and The Triple Aim of Better Clinical Outcomes, Greater Patient Satisfaction and Lower Cost of Care

With the prevalence of back, low back and neck pain, and the documented role of non-invasive, drug-free chiropractic care to successfully address these conditions and alleviate pain, providers in multiple disciplines and throughout the health care continuum are now advocating chiropractic care as a leading alternative to usual medical care.

As a nation, we simply cannot afford to proceed in a mode that promulgates “business as usual.” Americans, constituting only 4.6 percent of the world’s population, have been consuming 80 percent of the global opioid supply, and 99 percent of the global hydrocodone supply. At stake is the health and welfare of millions of Americans, with many lives literally hanging in the balance.

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