A new program coming to MUSC will help people with chronic pain get off the medication treating their symptoms, doctors hope.  Thanks to state funding, doctors will roll out the new program this fall.

Our state is among those with the highest rates of opioid prescribing in the nation. As of 2014, the number of opioid prescriptions exceeded the number of residents.

According to researchers at MUSC, the system of treating chronic pain favors the use of pills more than other interventions. Put simply, writing a prescription is easier than therapies.

“It works temporarily,” Dr. Kelly Barth explained. “That’s the draw for the doctor and the patient.”

And it’s cheaper.

For example, getting a bottle of pain pills costs $4 on average, and getting them only requires one trip to the doctor.  Getting physical therapy requires multiple visits to a doctor, co-pays, and often patients hit insurance caps on treatment.

“The way the system is set up right now, it fosters people to use medication,” Dr. Barth explained.

Thanks to new state funding, Dr. Barth’s team will roll out an intense treatment program for people to get off pain pills and deal with what’s causing the issue.

“It’s essentially a rehabilitation program and allows them to reengage in daily activities,” she explained.

The program will run three weeks for five days each week.  Treatment lasts from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm.  Dr. Barth’s team is also designing a weekend-long program. The programs are modeled after one that’s working at the Mayo clinic.

“We wean the pain medication slowly and then we engage them with physical therapy to move their bodies,” she explained.

The hospital is also expanding its focus on pregnant women addicted to pain killers treating chronic pain.

“Maybe they had a fall or a car wreck,” Dr. Constance Guille explains of her patients. “These are people that look like you and me.”

She says nearly one out of five pregnant women is prescribed opioids, and every 25 minutes a baby is born addicted to the medication. Babies are born early and with low birth weights.  It takes up to six weeks to gently wean a baby off the opioids.

The research hospital has already rolled out telehealth technology to seven OBGYN offices across the state and plans to install more to reach women in rural communities.

Dr. Barth hopes those with chronic pain will find hope.

“They don’t have to suffer either with addiction or with chronic pain,” she said.

To connect with the programs:

MUSC Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program: (843) 792-0686

Women’s Reproductive Behavioral Health Program: (843)792-0403

MUSC Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs: (843) 792-5200