Medication Reduction

How can you reduce your use of prescription drugs?

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Medication has its place in healthcare, and some drugs are truly lifesaving or life changing. We never advise people to discontinue necessary medication without consulting their doctor. That said, a lot of people find themselves overmedicated and feeling unwell for it. Sometimes their own doctors are unaware how many medications they're taking, as there may be multiple drugs prescribed by different practitioners for different reasons. One type of drug that is easily misused is the common painkiller.

The most popular painkilling medications today are the opioid drugs, such as OxyContin, Demerol, Dilaudid, Hydrocodone, and morphine. Percocet and Vicodin contain an opioid plus acetaminophen. Opioids are so notorious for causing severe constipation that a new drug, Movantik, is being marketed to treat opioid-induced constipation. This drug has its own side effects: when it approved the drug two years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted: Common side effects of Movantik include abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache and the experience of excessive gas in the stomach or intestinal area (flatulence).

The human body itself produces opioid-like chemicals, called endogenous opiates. One example is endorphins. Many people have heard of endorphins (the name is a combination of endogenous, meaning produced within the body, and morphine). Endorphins reduce pain and also induce a feeling of pleasure, the so-called runners high.

Research has shown that acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins. This is one way in which acupuncture relieves pain and gives you a feeling of enhanced well-being. Regular acupuncture treatment can be an effective way to manage chronic pain while reducing or eliminating opioid use. And you are unlikely to become addicted; this is because endorphins, unlike pharmaceutical painkillers, are quickly broken down by enzymes in your body. Opioid drugs continue to stimulate receptors in the body they cannot be told so easily when enough is enough, leading to a persistent high and an increased need for that feeling.

Other pharmaceutical painkillers include acetaminophen and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Acetaminophen reduces pain and fever, but it does not reduce inflammation. Like opioid drugs, these painkillers can be effective but come with side effects, especially in children and older people. NSAIDs can cause stomach pain and lead to ulcers, while too much acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage.

Along with stimulating endorphins, acupuncture causes the release of other substances in your body which help reduce inflammation and block pain. Using acupuncture after acute trauma, such as a strain, sprain, bruise, or fracture, speeds up the healing process while also lessening pain. Drugs like Oxycontin are often prescribed for the first days after this type of injury. With acupuncture treatment, you may avoid the need for such drugs altogether, or shorten the time you use them.

In summary, both chronic pain and acute pain can be effectively relieved by acupuncture, which stimulates your body's own healing mechanisms, a natural and safer alternative to use of pharmaceutical painkillers. As a bonus, acupuncture can also relieve constipation, rather than causing it.