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Opioid Series: Intermountain Healthcare prescribing alternative medicine more and more

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MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 News) — It’s common practice after surgery to be prescribed opioids, but there’s been a slow shift in that thinking. Intermountain Healthcare stresses they are not anti-opioids. There is a place where they are appropriate but they say it’s not the only answer.

Acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine used in ancient China can help with pain and withdrawals.

Zui Fang, Licensed Acupuncturist, “For over 2,000 years. Long time ago,” said Zui Fang, licensed acupuncturist. 

But it’s a relatively new concept in the United States, roughly 50 years.

“It sounded strange to me,” said Nate Empey from Heber. 
But he still gave it a shot. 

“The acupuncture relieves that pain loosens the muscles and gives you some temporary relief to the pain,” said Empey. 

In the next room at the ‘Live Well Center’ at Park City Hospital another type of practice.

“I’m doing mild fascial focus body work,” said Liz Young, a licensed massage therapist is giving Jill Seifert a medical massage.

“It increases circulation in the body which means you’re getting that oxygen, nutrients, lymph through the body and that releases tension,” said Young. 

Safer alternatives to opioids for pain management include :

  • Tylenol and ibuprofen together
  • Some depression medication
  • Ice and heat
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic
  • Massage therapy
  • Mind and body therapy
  • Aromatherapy (essential oils)  

“We need to be willing to try these options to see how well they can work,” said Bridget Shears, Pain Management Clinics Director at Intermountain Healthcare. 

Shears believes over-the-counter and alternative medicine are underutilized and underestimated.

At least when it comes to the main course of action to combat pain.
“I was really the summer Olympics was 1984, it was even sports massage that gave us credibility. Athletes saw increased performance, helped with injury and rehab,” said Young. 

Kelly Woodward is the director of the Live Well Center at Park City Hospital. He says going the natural route takes time and effort.

“Getting better exercise, better sleep, better nutrition, I gotta tell you it takes work. You gotta be willing to do the work,” said Woodward. 

The payoff, Woodward says, can be huge. 

“They tell me massage is working better than the medicine.” 
Alternative therapies can not only reduce opioids but could prevent some surgeries which stave off opioid use. Further, if you are hooked they can help overcome withdrawals in a natural way for your body to heal.
Intermountain Healthcare stresses though, not one pill or therapy fits everyone, but Intermountain says the stakes are too high, not to try. 

“I gave it a shot and it’s worked. I encourage everyone to give it a try at least once,” said Empey. 

One reason these alternative therapies are underutilized is that insurance doesn’t always pay for it. But some companies are slowly warming up to the idea, and sometimes it’s a matter of us, as patients, to ask for them. There are 4 Live Well Centers in the Intermountain Healthcare system with plans to implement more.

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