Program Offers Opioid Alternatives For Chronic Pain Patients

By Beth Leipholtz 01/03/18

The program works to educate high-risk opioid patients about opioid-free pain management methods.

 Medical Team Discussing Treatment Options With Patients

Individuals in Colorado with a history of opioid addiction or a genetic disposition to addiction now have an alternative to medications when it comes to pain management. 

An eight-week course called Integrated Pain Service has proven to be successful. 

The course is available for $100 for Kaiser Permanente members in Colorado and works to educate high-risk opioid patients about pain management methods that may not involve the use of medications.  

The program is integrated, meaning patients have access to a doctor, a clinical pharmacist, two mental health therapists, a physical therapist and a nurse. By having access all the resources in one place, rather than having to make separate appointments at separate facilities, treatment is simplified. 

Amanda Bye, a clinical psychologist at Kaiser Permanente, tells National Public Radio that the program teaches alternatives for pain management, such as meditation, exercise, acupuncture and mindfulness. However, she says, some patients do go to the chemical dependency unit for treatment assisted by medication.

"We brought in all these specialists. We all know the up-to-date research of what's most effective in helping to manage pain," Bye told NPR. "And that's how the program got started."

According to an article from National Public Radio, Kaiser researchers have been tracking 80 patients over the course of one year. In doing so, they discovered that the patients’ emergency room visits decreased 25%, inpatient admissions decreased 40% and that overall opioid use decreased.

The clinic aims to educate patients about opioids, driving home the point that they are not painkillers but are pain managers. 

“Best care is not just medication,” Bye told the Denver Post. “We know that using opioids alone aren’t that effective for managing chronic pain. Opioids alone are about 30% effective, at best, for helping manage chronic pain. We know that cognitive behavior skills—such as deep breathing, mindfulness, relaxation—are about 50 to 60% effective.”

Colorado is among states that have a vital need for programs such as this. According to data from the state’s health department, 912 people died from overdoses in Colorado in 2016—a record number. Of those, 300 died from an opioid overdose. In addition to having a growing problem, Colorado also has a shortage of treatment options. 

Similar programs have proven to be beneficial in California, according to Dr. Kelly Pfeifer, director of high-value care at the California Health Care Foundation.

"We've seen great success with these models that are integrating complementary therapy, physical therapy, behavioral health and medical care," Pfeifer told NPR. “A key strategy is to gradually decrease the amount of opioids a patient takes, rather than cut them off before they're ready."

"It works so much better when the patients have access to these complementary therapies," she says. "And it works even better when those complementary therapies are part of an integrated team."

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.