New program promotes physical therapy over prescriptions |

New program promotes physical therapy over prescriptions

For people dealing with pain as they recover from surgery or injuries, there are alternatives to prescriptions to highly addictive drugs like opioids.

That’s the push behind the Mark McManus Foundation’s newly launched More PT Less Rx program.

It is all part of Mara McManus Rhodes’ larger goal to bring to light the risks associated with prescription drug use, misuse, and addiction — and to change cultural thinking on how to address pain and support mental health.

Teamed up with the UCHealth SportsMed Clinic, she’s now providing funding for patients to access those alternatives.

At first focusing her efforts on education and outreach, “I became more aware that a lot of people resort to prescription drugs because of a lack of financial resources for other options,” Rhodes said.

Regional coordinator for the RX Task Force for the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership, Rhodes started the Mark McManus Foundation (in collaboration with the Yampa Valley Community Foundation) in honor of her younger brother, whom she lost to prescription drug addiction in 2014.

With an estimated 115 people dying every day from an opioid-related death, the national epidemic has been a key factor in lowering the life expectancy of Americans.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and the numbers continue to rapidly increase.

Countless heartbreaking stories describe patients prescribed opioids by their doctor after an injury or surgery before becoming quickly dependent.

Rhodes acknowledges an important role for prescription drugs. “There are types of prescriptions that save lives and can be great in the long term,” she said. “Medications can be extremely effective, but in the long term they can be harmful,” Rhodes said, noting most prescribed for pain are morphine-based – “The most addictive drug in the world. They can be very difficult to get weaned off of, and there are lot of side effects – with the main side effect of physical dependence.”

Many prescribed opioids do just fine, but many don’t, she said. And this is a very tangible way to help those who are at risk of a short-term prescription turning into a dangerous addiction.

After an injury or surgery, or to treat chronic pain, “Many insurance carriers are probably going to cover you for endless amounts of prescription drugs,” Rhodes said. “But not weeks or months of physical therapy.”

The new More PT Less RX program opens a conversation to both show the “many wonderful options out there,” she said, and provide financial assistance to pursue those options.

On the physical therapy side, Mary Beth Strotbeck, director of rehabilitation services with UCHealth SportsMed Clinics, said she and her team started out with research on the neuroscience of pain.

They also developed a different type of diagnosis process for people identified as more vulnerable to addiction, which includes adding behavioral health resources.

The goal is to “help meet all aspects of needs,” Strotbeck said.

Education is a big piece, she explained, in terms of detailing to patients the risks of addiction and the benefits of physical therapy, as well as an understanding of the process of recovery.

“There will be pain,” she said, and it must be validated.

But her teams also help people see that pain is a cycle – it will go away. And there are various techniques to better move through it and past it.

The physical therapy component utilizes treatments far beyond an exercise regime.

Backed by science, those techniques include visualization, mediation, and breathing. There’s massage, acupuncture, and behavioral health therapy.

By lowering heart rate, anxiety level, and blood pressure, patients can “help the body calm down,” Strotbeck explained, and “lower the brain’s perception of how much pain you are having.”

Diet and nutrition plays a part too, as do a number of non-opioid drugs and medical treatments.

And physical movement is central.

Learning “techniques on how to move, from very early on, and how those movement patterns help lower pain” helps people function daily, she said, while preventing more pain. “You want to move as much as possible without pain.”

Rhodes said she is grateful for the partnership with UCHealth, and the shared goal of lowering opioid use.

In 2017, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center participated in a six-month pilot program aimed at reducing the amount of opioids it administers in its emergency department, and was able to decrease opioid use by 40 percent during that period.

Strotbeck said timeliness is a big factor. Patients who participate in More PT Less RX make a commitment to get off their prescription drugs within two weeks of an injury.

Rhodes sees the program as part the broader need for a “cultural shift” away from a “quick fix mentality” and toward a whole body approach with safer and more sustainable therapies.

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