Patients push for alternatives to opioids, local doctors learn new approaches

Some doctors are focusing on collective therapies, not just painkillers, to treat pain.

Doctors and lawmakers continue to struggle with how to solve the opioid crisis, but some local doctors are learning new approaches to treating people with chronic pain.

They are learning directly from the people who are hurting, and the patients say it’s working.

One of those patients is Corrina Ehrlich. She suffers from a chronic neurological disorder called CRPS, or complex regional pain syndrome.

“I felt my life was over. I thought I was done,” Ehrlich said.

Then she met Dr. Catriona Buist, a psychologist at OHSU, who focused on collective therapies, not just painkillers.

“Things like acupuncture and chiropractic treatment – maybe tai chi or yoga can be particularly helpful,” said Buist.

She said they also incorporate cognitive therapy.

“It’s very helpful to understand pain. The more you can understand it, the better you can manage it, and that’s one of the elements that we’re teaching in that pain intersession so that future providers really can understand pain and have those difficult conversations with patients,” Buist said.

Ehrlich is all too familiar with those difficult conversations. She said her first doctors either ignored her concerns or were quick with the pen, prescribing her opioids.

“Opioids are good for the short term, but for long term, they’re not going to help you,” Ehrlich said. “You will eventually have to learn how to cope in different ways.”

She hopes to show others the new coping skills are working.

Buist said not all people who take opioids get addicted.

She said while medication is good for post op and acute pain, more doctors are looking at opioids as just a tool in a box of therapies that can work for chronic pain.

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