Opioid Addiction: Conquering Pain Without Pills

This is the conclusion in a series of in-depth reports from 10 On Your Side dealing with the opioid crisis. We examined several aspects of this epidemic through the personal stories of people in Hampton Roads.

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – A Virginia Beach man feels pain just about every day, but he no longer takes opioids. He didn't want to become another statistic of addiction -- so he found a better way to manage his pain.

With an average of three Virginians dying every day from opioid overdose, the need for awareness and alternative remedies is greater than ever.

Special Coverage: Opioid Addiction

“My history with pain starts around 15-years-old,” said Jason Silverstein, who’s now 45.

His 30 years of chronic pain started with a high school football injury. Doctors would always call for opioid pain relievers.

“Percocet and Darvocet were prescribed,” Silverstein recalls. “For 10 days and sometimes 30 days at a time, and that would cause some problems.”

He didn't like what the pills were doing to him -- making him nauseous, irritable, hard to get along with -- but he feared something even worse.

“I think the fear for me was becoming a drug addict.”

Then his son, Will, hurt his knee wrestling for Cox High School. Like father, like son: He, too, was given opioids.

“That was really what set off an alarm in my head was that my 16-year-old son was being prescribed Percocet.”

So after his own most recent surgery, Silverstein decided there had to be a better way to manage his pain. He started a program with Dr. Spencer Muro, a pain specialist with Sentara Therapy Hilltop.

“They're coming in here as an alternative to using pain meds,” Muro told 10 On Your Side.

With a history of pain and several back and neck surgeries, Silverstein’s doctors had told him he could forget about ever running, doing squats or lifting anything above his head.

After he began a physical therapy program with Muro about five months ago, Silverstein began to regain his range of motion.

“I'm completely confident now that I can do all of those motions.”

Muro says once patients understand what causes and worsens pain beyond the underlying trauma or injury, they realize opioids aren't the only remedy.

“Stress, depression and sleep deprivation, fears and concerns about what does this pain mean -- all of those things will elevate pain levels.”

Muro is a member of the Heroin Working Group of Hampton Roads, created by Attorney General Mark Herring to address the opioid crisis and find alternatives. Another member, Dr. Ben Fickenscher of Chesapeake Regional, says people in pain do have options.

“Physical therapy, biofeedback, massage and meditation are all what we consider alternative medicine.”

Fickenscher also recommends non-opioid pain relievers such as Tylenol, ibuprofen and naproxen, which he says have little potential for addiction.

Dr. David Langille is on the front lines of the opioid crisis, helping opioid addicts through recovery. He remains upbeat, even though an average of three Virginians die each day from opioid overdose.

“I'm full of optimism because this is a very treatable disease.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) wants to get middle and high schoolers to embrace a safer future and avoid opioids through a novel approach. Operation Prevention is a STEM-based curriculum to explain what the drugs do to their bodies.

“We've had quite a lot of success in the [school] districts where we've rolled it out,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Barbuti. “The kids really appreciate looking at it from a scientific point of view, rather than a police officer or someone else talking down to them.”

The DEA plans to make presentations on Operation Prevention to school districts in Hampton Roads before the upcoming school year.

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