Many of those caught up in the opioid epidemic began as people with physical pain in need of relief. Developing a tolerance and then seeking stronger drugs can lead them down a dangerous and deadly path.
While pain pills have their place in treatment, some patients can avoid them altogether with a procedure that has promising results. Marlene Ensminger suffered from debilitating back pain for more than 10 years. She used to get shots every few months to cope with the discomfort.
"I couldn't stand for more than five minutes in the kitchen to make a meal. I couldn't walk more than a couple yards and I'd have to stop. Got so I couldn't sleep at night," said Ensminger.
Her doctor told her about a spinal cord stimulator, a small battery operated implant that would replace medicine. She was reluctant, but her family convinced her that she should give it a try.
"Pain is, you know, an electrical signal that travels through your spinal cord up towards your brain. And your brain interprets it as pain. And we're able to put energy, electricity into certain areas of the spinal column and alter those signals as they go up. So by the time they get up to your brain, not only do we get pain relief, but it also has, hopefully, a functional improvement, a quality of life improvement," said Dr. Stephen Markewich, CHI St. Alexius anesthesiologist. Ensminger says in the month since the procedure, she's been pain free, and can walk standing straight up instead of stooping over. The device should be good for nine years, and even though it's inside her body, she can recharge it daily.
Doctor Markewich says the spinal cord stimulator is about the size of a pacemaker and has an 80 percent success rate. And he says many people with back pain could benefit.
Alan Miller Reporting