Alternative methods for pain relief being explored to fight opioid abuse

The Centers for Disease Control says 91 Americans die of opioid overdose every day. 

Now, alternative methods for pain relief are growing in popularity as the government continues to tighten it's grip on opioids in its effort to stem abuse.

The Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center is turning away from medicine and toward holistic healing.

Irene Parisi, 53, suffers from arthritis and is in constant pain.

"It is in multiple parts of my body and just sleeping was hard to do," she said.

When prescription pills were not enough, she mixed alcohol with them and lied to doctors to get refills. All the while, she confesses she secretly knew she was dependent on pills.

"My daughter asked my husband one evening if I was impaired again," Parisi said, adding that was the straw that broke the camel's back. That comment sent her looking for another way to suppress the pain.

"We do yoga, acupuncture, physical therapy," said Traci Gauen, LPC, LCDC.

Alternative medicine like a soothing virtual reality video works for patients like Irene who need an intense intervention without harsh medications.

"So going from 'I have pain let me take this pill' to 'I have pain, let me do these different treatment modalities,'" Gauen said a lot of her job is getting patients to change their mind about how to treat themselves.

"It does sound pretty simple right?" Dr. Mike Leath, chief physician, said. "It's almost crazy if you're truly in pain not to try it."

Leath said this approach is not for patients with extreme accidents or illnesses like cancer, but for someone like Irene, he said this is more cost efficient because it offers an affordable long-term treatment.

It's benefiting health care providers because this is the type of fix the health insurance companies are more eager to cover.

"If they can get patients off some of these expensive meds, a) it's a real savings for them but the cool thing for the patient is that he or she becomes functional again," Leath said.

Due to these therapies, Irene is functional and free from pills. She said the first time she did acupuncture she felt immediate relief from pain for seven hours.

"It was the most amazing thing that I had ever done," Parisi said.

She also spent several hours every day at PARC (for 30 days) recovering from pain pill addiction.