As more healthcare providers and patients come to the realization that prescription narcotics are not nearly as effective at treating pain long-term as they were once believed, there continues to be more effort placed on finding alternative solutions to pain management. Another driving factor is simply the number of lives ruined and lost associated with opioid painkillers due to addiction and overdose deaths.
One recent article highlights some work being done by a start-up called Applied VR, which uses virtual reality headsets and games in various applications. In this case, they’re working with hospitals and other institutions to examine the effects that a simple virtual reality game can have on reducing pain symptoms and anxiety.
Applied VR has created games to help patients reduce pain or anxiety. One game consists of the patient walking very slowly down a path that has bears and other animals. They are tasked with throwing balls at the animals. And unlike other games, players do not die or get injured. The games are intentionally slow and mesmerizing. And research suggests that they are effective.
Prior to using the game, patients were asked to rate their pain on a scale of zero to ten. On average the patients rated their pain as 5.5. After playing the virtual reality game for 20 minutes, the patients dropped their ratings to a 4.0. This reduction of roughly 25% has impressed many in the medical community.
The use of such calming techniques can have many applications, including after an accident, injury or some other traumatic event. It can also help relieve symptoms of pain and anxiety before and after procedures ranging from simply drawing blood to complicated surgery.
Considering that more than 165,000 people have died in the United States in relation to prescription narcotics since 1999, we all should be welcoming alternative solutions for relief that do not introduce people to addictive substances.
The news is flooded with incidents and warnings about prescription drug abuse amongst teenagers and young adults, but the toll that the drugs are taking on the elderly is not often reported. The elderly population experiences many different varieties of pain and recuperation from surgical procedures that warrant the use of narcotic painkillers. However, despite these acceptable reasons for prescription narcotics, many physicians are not adequately explaining the side effects and potential for abuse that come along with medications like OxyContin or Percocet.
“More Americans overdose on prescription painkillers than on heroin and cocaine combined. Yet, these medications are marketed as the Cadillac option for treating pain. I doctors and their patients understand the risks and side effects, they can discuss safer, more effective options,” explained Deborah A.P. Hersman, President and CEO of the National Safety Council.
The Council recently released a paper discussing the dangers of prescription painkillers and their side effects compared to over-the-counter drugs. They found that older adults are four times more likely to have broken a bone while under the influence of narcotic painkillers. Additionally, 68 percent of older adults who take prescription painkillers are more likely to be hospitalized due to their use of the medications, and they are 87 percent more likely to die from taking them.
One of the arguments for prescribing narcotic painkillers to the elderly is that these pills are believed to be easier and safer on the digestive system than over the counter painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs. However, the National Safety Council found that adults who are prescribed pills like Vicodin or Opana are just as likely to experience stomach problems.
While it is clear that adults who are over the age of 65 are more likely to experience health problems and issues that bring on pain, experts urge doctors to explore all methods of relief rather than relying on narcotic painkillers to take care of the issues. Patients who change their diet, exercise more and explore physical or occupational therapies may be able to get over their injuries and pain faster and without the physical dangers of those that rely on narcotic painkillers.