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Doctors advised not to give painkillers for back pain if possible

New guidelines are changing the way doctors treat back pain, due to the opioid epidemic.

For patients with lower back pain, doctors are advised to only prescribe painkillers as a last resort.

Anne Pauwels of South Bend has had flare ups of back pain for most of her life.

“It’s almost like somebody took a knife and just stabbed you really fast,” Pauwels said of the pain.

She knocks out that nasty feeling with exercise, seeing a chiropractor, and very rarely taking prescription painkillers.

“Ibuprofen, for me, doesn’t do anything,” Pauwels said.

For patients like Pauwels, prescription medications won’t be so easily available anymore.

The American College of Physicians recommended this week that doctors prescribe painkillers even more rarely for back pain.

They ask that doctors first have patients try exercise, massage, and maybe Aspirin

“The big thing is the idea that a pill fixes everything, is really not the key. The key is a majority of people can really improve things by adjusting their lifestyle,” South Bend Clinic physician Dr. Paul Desmarais said.

However, not all patients are willing to take the steps Pauwels has due to lack of funding.

“Massage, acupuncture, some chiropractic, some of those things aren’t covered on a lot of the insurances,” Desmarais said.

In the past this has put Dr. Desmarais in a tough position.

He knows prescribing the wrong pill or too many pills, could lead to drug addiction.

It’s something St. Joseph County Drug Task Force Commander Dave Wells sees every day.

“Once the pills run out lead to addiction to other drugs like opiates and heroin, and once you go down that rabbit hole it’s very, very difficult to come back,” Wells said.

The commanders says these new guidelines are good for doctors and good for the community.

“The medical profession across the country has really been getting on board with this,” Wells said.

Even Pauwels is on board, as living proof that learning to cope with pain in the short term, is easier than coping with a long term drug problem.

“I don’t want to depend on that. It’s not my lifestyle,” Pauwels said.

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