Irvin: Covering New Modalities Is the Only Cure for the Opioid Crisis

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During these difficult times with the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing opioid crisis, we must proactively address pain management and emotional health.

I have had a front-row seat to the healthcare system for over seven years, enduring 60 plus surgeries, pain management protocols and procedures due to the ongoing effects on my body from a flesh-eating bacteria of my abdominal wall.  

To be honest, it has been a struggle with managing my pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  But I am thankful to be alive today to offer some proven solutions which I hope can help shed light on safer alternatives.

Some were easily accessible, such as meditation with ocean breathing, naturopathic medicines, mindfulness exercises, and sea salt soaks. Unfortunately, other modalities tend to be more expensive and less accessible, and therein lies an impediment for far too many who deserve safer alternatives to a healthier ongoing quality of life. 

One modality that plays a critical role in my pain management is integrative medicine. These types of services, otherwise known as “bodywork,” are excellent, whether it be craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, reiki, shiatsu, and scar tissue massage, among others. According to a study commissioned by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), massage therapy could save the American economy almost $26 billion annually in part by reducing those addicted by over 100,000 per year.

In 1991 the first academic Integrative Medicine center was established at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  I can attest as a patient at Shock Trauma that these services played a role in helping me to turn a corner in my recovery.  The team performed acupuncture and acupressure and offered therapeutic music as well.  Additionally, for my family, there was an outstanding family life program that provided resources for our young children and my wife while I was in Shock Trauma for weeks at a time. 

I also benefited from hyperbaric oxygen treatments for which Shock Trauma is nationally recognized.  These treatments saved my life and ensure my ongoing quality of life for wound healing, PTSD, and pain management.  I believe that this is a modality that must be more widely used and continue to advocate for the use of it especially for our veterans who suffer from pain, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD as well.  It is the time for Congress to get to work and pass the TBI and PTSD Treatment Act that would ensure this modality is available and covered to both save and improve our veterans quality of life. 

I was also fortunate to receive life-saving care at the Cleveland Clinic which offers reiki, as well as music and art therapy, both post-op and during inpatient hospital stays. Both hospital systems are “think outside of the box” organizations, merging their Western medicine with other types of bedside modalities.

Physical therapy (PT) also has an important role. However, insurance plans can cut PT services off way too soon or not allow PT for other indications such as PTSD, depression, and some types of pain management. 

I also use CBD products which are much safer and more effective than opioids and yet insurance companies will not cover these products even though they were approved as part of the Farm Bill in 2018.  Unfortunately, these effective products tend to be very expensive and unfortunately out of reach to many who could benefit from them.  Imagine a new modality being federally approved yet Washington failed to make it affordable and accessible.

On the emotional wellness front inpatient and outpatient programs, individual talk and group therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and somatic experiencing are all critical tools of which some I have benefited.

The unfortunate reality is too many barriers exist to these modalities including:

  1. costs;
  2. parity issue between mental and physical health;
  3. long waits for inpatient or outpatient programs;
  4. a lack of trained emotional health professionals;
  5. emotional health tools are typically out of network requiring complicated filing procedures and less access;
  6. affordable out-of-pocket costs; and
  7. a lack of understanding around these options and benefits.

Our system is not set up to provide these valuable alternative tools and remains antiquated in what they cover or embrace. We need more
Shock Trauma and Cleveland Clinic type thinking that can help balance the needs and care of patients.

From the vantage point of my seven-year journey in pain management, we must persuade policymakers to: 

  1. Cover and pay for new and additional services and modalities for people from all walks of life.
  2. Provide incentives to train more healthcare professionals in pain management and emotional wellness to meet the demands of the day.
  3. Invest to ensure impartiality and fairness in health insurance for all Americans that is affordable, accessible, and accountable.

I urge our lawmakers at both the federal and state level to step up its work and require insurance companies and government agencies to cover new modalities that can save lives. 

We simply can’t cure the opioid crisis and address emotional healing without making new modalities accessible and affordable.   

I am alive for a reason. If all I have gone through can help get patients from all stations of life access to the same treatments from which I have benefitted, then every single ounce of my suffering will have been worth it.

 -Wes Irvin

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