By Ross Walker

When you think of a drug overdose, the typical picture in most people’s minds is that of an unkempt, young (possibly homeless) person with tattered clothing and not much hope in life.

Well, it appears that this stereotype is not always the case, and certainly not the most common scenario. A new report from the Pennington Institute’s Annual Overdose Report 2016 has detailed some rather alarming statistics.

1. The most common person to die from an overdose is the older male, especially living in regional Australia.

2. The deaths are more likely from prescription drugs such as prescribed narcotics and Valium, rather than from illegal drugs obtained on the streets.

3. The 30-60 year-old age group accounted for 80% of all overdose deaths, with a doubling in the 40-50 range from 174 deaths in 2004, to 342 deaths in 2014.

4. The deaths are much higher in regional areas, accounting for 5.7 deaths per 100,000, compared with 4.4 deaths per 100,000 in the cities.

5. Original deaths due to drug overdoses have skyrocketed from 3.9 per 100,000 people to 9.4 per 100,000 people over the same 10-year period.

So, why is this so? It is my opinion that we are seeing not only a poorly managed increase in chronic pain, but an excessive prescription of pain killers, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety and antidepressant pills. Around 7-10% of Australian adults suffer some form of chronic pain.

The current approach to pain management is to use (typically) non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, which, at times, can lead to serious gastrointestinal bleeding, hypertension and kidney damage. Even worse, narcotic pain killing opioids such as endone and oxycodone may lead to addiction, severe gastrointestinal side effects and in high doses, respiratory depression, and as seen in this report – even death.

The dangerous cocktail of the opioids, often mixed with benzodiazepines such as Valium, Serepax or Xanax (often washed down with an alcohol chaser), is almost certainly the major reason we are seeing this carnage in a somewhat unexpected population.

So, are there any answers? Pain is typically disabling and can often destroy any quality of life, so it needs to be relieved.

Although there will always be a minority of people with intractable chronic pain, where relief with heavy narcotics is a central part of the management, for the majority, there are alternatives that are of great benefit.

The alternatives

Firstly, there are a number of natural pain relievers, both topical and orally, that may offer some relief. For lower back pain and non-joint related musculoskeletal disorders, there are a number of anti-inflammatory/analgesic creams and lotions that offer relief with varying natural substances such as anarca, menthol and tiger balm. There now some effective creams for arthritis as well.

Oral anti-inflammatories such as the curcumin-based products, along with French Oak polyphenols as seen in a new product Oakwell, have shown great benefit for many people. New Zealand Green lipped mussels and a new product, Arborvitae, which contains maritime pine bark extracts and aloe vera, have all offered significant relief in a number of people.

The well-known and somewhat maligned pharmaceutical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, Celebrex, has been shown in recent studies to be safe in older, more sick people (even with cardiovascular disease) without all of the problems of its now withdrawn cousin, Vioxx. And with the added bonus of no significant gastrointestinal problems.

Relatively new electromagnetic devices are also proving to be of significant benefit with chronic pain. A recently developed Cefaly device for migraine has been shown in evidence-based trials, to significantly reduce migraine severity and frequency. I have spoken and written on numerous occasions about Pain Master using micro current therapy which involves 2 adhesive pads connected by an electrode. I have had many patients who obtained great pain relief from this product.

Treatment I have been receiving regularly for my significant musculoskeletal aches and pains is known as physiokey which is electromagnetic stimulation to areas of pain and discomfort and has been proven to be beneficial for a variety of conditions.

Many people derive benefit from physical therapies such as physiotherapy, chiropractic and osteopathy, and I am also a great believer in having a regular remedial massage.

Finally, I am the chairman of the strategic advisory board for MGC pharmaceuticals. MGC Pharma is working very hard to introduce medical cannabis into Australia. The work to date across the world has shown significant benefits for many aspects of chronic pain management for both cancer associated and non-malignant chronic pain syndromes.

Basically, if you have any form of pain, there are many alternatives to using the heavy, potentially lethal narcotic pain killers. Explore your options and avoid becoming one of the very disturbing statistics. Hopefully with important documents such as the Pennington report, we can start to see the carnage from accidental overdoses decreasing.