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Natural Alternatives

Opioids help people in the healing process, relaxing the body and relieving pain. But, like nearly any form of medication, they can also be abused. The prevalence of opioids has led to an epidemic in America. The CDC estimates that the total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse alone in the U.S. is $78.5 billion a year and that 115 people die each day from overdoses. You can learn more about the crisis and how it can affect your business in our blog, “Opioids and Their Effect on Workers’ Compensation.”

While opioids are certainly one of the most popular and effective methods of treating pain, they are not the only choice. Natural pain management exists, and it can prevent you from suffering from the rising rate of claims and costs associated with opioid abuse.

Common Alternatives to this All-too-common Problem

When dealing with an issue such as pain, there is rarely a catch-all solution. However, there are a number of alternatives to offer and precautions to take to help employees cope with trauma. By embracing a naturalist approach to pain management, you can reduce the effects of opioids on your staff and costs that go with it.

  • Heat and ice packs: Applying warmth or cold to a painful area regulates blood flow, which in turn can reduce pain and swelling. It’s simple but effective.
  • Yoga or meditation: Mind over matter is very real when it comes to pain. By taking on activities that encourage focus, pain can become far less intense.
  • Low-impact exercises: Stretching, walking, and other activities can strengthen and loosen problematic muscles, but a medical professional should be consulted before attempting.
  • Avoid overexertion: Rest is important to injured tissue and nerves. Giving the injured area time to heal will prevent furthering the damage done.
  • Seek alternatives: There are other medical options, such as anti-inflammatories, that can reduce pain, though not always as effectively as opioids. A doctor should be able to offer suggestions.

Is Cannabidiol (CBD) the Right Choice?

One sought-after alternative is CBD. It’s derived from hemp, offering a plant-based and eco-friendly treatment for those suffering from pain. While some may confuse CBD with marijuana or THC – the psychoactive element of cannabis – CBD lacks the mind-altering side chemicals that cause the well-known “high” associated with the plant.

For years, CBD has been sought as a natural therapy for pain but has only recently begun seeing recognition in the medical community. Some research suggests that this alternative to opioids could help manage pain. While CBD is still under consideration by the FDA as an adequate substitute, it has seen anecdotal success in helping some cope with their ailments by relaxing muscles, decreasing hypersensitivity, and reducing swelling. And, while CBD doesn’t produce a high when consumed, it still can provide much needed mental benefits to patients. It can lower anxiety, aid in sleep, and has the added advantage of not feeling like medication as it can be ingested in food or drink, and even administered topically.

The Growing Popularity of Medical Marijuana

There’s been a lot of buzz regarding the use of medical marijuana as a way to treat pain. As stigma associated with the drug declines, it has become part of the discussion for those looking for a natural alternative to opioids. According to research from the University of Michigan, 62.2 percent of medical cannabis users are using it to treat their chronic pain. Another research paper from 2016 suggests that marijuana prescribed to cancer patients reduced their opioid use, improved their quality of life, and even reduced the overall amount of medications they needed.

Medical marijuana checks many of the same boxes as CBD, helping patients with joint problems, migraines, and other common sources of pain. However, it does include THC, which is why it is still a Schedule I substance and illegal under federal law. While over half of all states in the U.S. currently have legalized medical marijuana, it is important to be aware of whether yours is one of them. For this reason, insurers have been averse to using this as an alternative to opioids.

What Works Best for You?

Opioids have helped millions of American recover from injuries and surgeries. There is no discounting the good they’ve done for patients over the decades. However, they have also led to our current crisis. The alternatives listed above avoid many of the negative side effects of traditional pain killers. By utilizing and promoting these alternatives (where applicable), you can protect your employees, help them return to work, and reduce the risks to your business.

For more information about your workers’ compensation policy and costs or how to help manage opioid abuse risks, contact your VGM Insurance Account Manager today, or reach out to us at 800-362-3363 or info@vgminsurance.com.

In addition, VGM Insurance’s affiliate company, HOMELINK, is committed to partnering with workers’ compensation insurance companies on mitigating the escalating costs due to the current opioid epidemic. HOMELINK is prepared to work with case managers and claims adjusters who are looking for alternative options to opioids for the treatment of chronic pain, including medicinal cannabis. They also work with workers’ compensation stakeholders to reconcile the barriers in the workplace as imposed by federal laws and regulations, with the need to identify alternative treatment options for chronic pain. To learn more about HOMELINK, contact Mike Isaacson, VP Business Development, at mike.isaacson@vgm.com or 844-860-8611.

To read Part One of our two-part series on Opioids and Their Effect on Workers’ Compensation, click here.

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