The news this week was grim, yet perhaps not surprising: Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death in Americans under the age of 50, according to data compiled by the New York Times. The newspaper culled through reports from county coroners, medical examiners and state health departments to reach this conclusion, which it reported June 5.
The release of three reviews on the benefits of massage therapy for pain relief could raise massage therapy’s profile—for it is pain that drives many Americans to an opioid prescription—and sometimes on to opioid or heroin abuse; addiction; and, too often, overdose.
All three reviews ran online in the journal Pain Medicine, published by Oxford University Press—and although the studies were first published a little more than a year ago, they are still being shared and referred to by media outlets, business websites and educational institutions.
The Opioid Epidemic
The opioid epidemic is the current health crisis in the US
In 2014, more than 28,000 Americans overdosed on some type of opioid, a figure representing more than 60 percent of all drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)—and the rate of death due to opioid overdose increased by 14 percent from 2013 to 2014.
In 2016, the number of Americans who died due to drug overdoses had risen to 59,000, according to the Times. “The death count is the latest consequence of an escalating public health crisis: opioid addiction, now made more deadly by an influx of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and similar drugs,” the newspaper noted.
News about problems related to opioid use confronts us every day. Those problems include overprescribing opioids, addiction, overdose and death.
Although medical experts say opioids can be effective tools when used properly, evidence shows they are often being used improperly.
Opioids are medications classified as narcotics, and include oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet); hydrocodone (Vicodin); diphenoxylate (Lomotil); codeine; and morphine, according to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Heroin is synthesized from morphine, and “[r]esearch now suggests that abuse of these [prescription opioid] drugs may open the door to heroin abuse,” a NIDA statement noted.
Overdose deaths from heroin alone have quadrupled since 2010, according to the CDC. Then there is the growing popularity of drugs such as fentanyl and its analog, carfentanil, “an elephant tranquilizer 5,000 times stronger than heroin,” the Times noted.
Over the past few years, government funding has flowed toward prevention, education and treatment of opioid use. That flow has rarely included funding of complementary therapies such as massage or acupuncture, despite such therapies’ indicated pain-relieving abilities, low cost and safety.
Could that change?