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How local doctors are fighting pain without opioids

Posted at 11:19 AM, Dec 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-05 23:36:16-05

CINCINNATI — Ava Strole has battled back pain since she was a child. Rods inserted into her spine and multiple surgeries left her with chronic pain for years.

For more than a decade, Strole said she's relied on a prescribed cocktail of drugs just to keep going, but she always feared becoming dependent on opioids.

“When you need that every day to be able to function ... you do,” Strole said.

And their side effects — “mood swings, grogginess, brain fog” — left her feeling disoriented without actually relieving her pain, she says.

With the help of Mercy Health’s Dr. Aarti Singla, Stole says she’s left that fog behind.

Beyond physical therapy and steroid injections, Singla treats pain using platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, a process that takes platelets from the patient’s own blood to tackle trouble spots.

Doctors can also relieve pain by stimulating the spinal cord using surgically implanted leads that send electrical pulses from a battery-like device through the spinal cord. Singla says this effectively masks pain signals before they can reach the brain.

“It changes the way your body processes the pain,” Singla said. “It's been used more when patients have failed everything, that's when they thought about using this. Now we're using it earlier to bring people off opioids and to offer them more functioning.”

Like Singla, more doctors nationwide are finding ways to relieve patients’ ailments without prescribing opioids.

“That's been the most impactful event that's happened. People don't want to be started on opioids,” Singla said.

From 1997 to 2017, opioid addiction claimed the lives of more than 399,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But fill rates for opioids have declined in recent years. In 2012, America saw 81 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. That number is down to 51 prescriptions for every 100 people, a drop that is mainly doctor-driven, according to the CDC.

In Strole’s case, using alternative treatments means increased mobility and comfort. Now, she can pick up her grandkids and spend quality time with them on the rides at Kings Island.

She’s put away her recliner, too, no longer needing to elevate her feet to relieve the pressure on her back. No more side effects, no fog and — most important — no more pain.

“I get really emotional, because she has done more for me in the past two years ... helping me to almost completely get off all the meds I was on,” Strole said.

“I’m feeling great.”