By now we've all heard about the Framingham-based pharmacy responsible for the contaminated steroid drug that has sickened more than 200 people nationwide and left 15 fatalities in its wake.
Based on these findings, patients eligible for injections to deal with pain have declined treatment according to last week's Boston Globe. The article featured Dr. Carol Hartigan, a physiatrist at the spine center at New England Baptist, who said “Clinicians and patients can really exaggerate the response [of steroid injections] out of hope. We want the quick fix sometimes” (Contaminated Drug Draws Attention to Steroid Injection Procedure).
An estimated 86 million Americans struggle with chronic pain. The treatment options are many, ranging from commonly prescribed medications and steroid injections to physical therapy, massage, meditation, and more.
But it seems our healthcare system has programmed people to look for quick fixes in dealing with pain, rather than question the procedures and prescriptions they are given and look for possible alternatives.
I just watched the new documentary film “Escape Fire," an official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film competition, which is now available for downloading. It reveals some startling facts about our healthcare system, while bringing to the screen the deeply heartfelt and impactful stories of patients and doctors who have grappled ethically and personally with our current healthcare system.
Here are some points that stood out to me:
- The US spends $300 billion a year on pharmaceutical drugs
- The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world who can advertise prescription drugs to the public
- A veteran physician said, “When medicine became a business, we lost our moral compass.”
- More soldiers died last year from non-combat injuries than during war
- An Afghan war survivor and sergeant said, “I’d rather be shot again than go through the withdrawal symptoms of coming off all of the pain medications I was given.”
One progressive way doctors at Walter Reed Hospital are now working to help soldiers with PTSD and pain is skipping the pain killers for alternative approaches such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture (Healing Soldiers Through Meditation).
The fact is, no “miracle drug” has yet surfaced. Just take a look at placebo research and you might inch your way towards this conclusion.
The placebo effect was born on a beach in southern Italy during World War II. While US troops suffered heavy German bombardment, doctors and nurses tended to the soldiers’ casualties. One nurse, while assisting an anesthetist named Henry Beecher, couldn’t bring herself to tell a wounded soldier that their morphine supply was dangerously low. Instead, she filled her syringe with a saline solution and told the soldier he was receiving a powerful pain killer. His pain was relieved and the sham injection prevented the onset of shock.
After the war, Beecher didn’t ignore this “test case.” He went on to make significant reforms in the field of drug testing, suggesting the use of placebos to see whether the drugs were in fact effective.
According to Wired, “After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom” (Placebos are getting more effective. Drugmakers are desperate to know why). And when it comes to pain, the findings point to how a person’s mental state contributes to outcomes.
Pain can’t be measured. As one nurse aptly described it in Escape Fire, "You can't stick a thermometer in a patient's mouth and get a pain reading." It’s different for each individual. So isn’t it logical to look at the role of a person’s thought, rather than their body, to deal with pain at its source?
In my spiritual practice, I’ve seen the benefit of taking inventory of my thoughts with prayer. This statement made by Christian Science founder and health-reformer Mary Baker Eddy has informed me and people around the globe on how to deny pain power:
“Banish the belief that you can possibly entertain a single intruding pain which cannot be ruled out by the might of Mind [God], and in this way you can prevent the development of pain in the body” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures).
It's a very different approach to find a solution to pain by beginning with one's own consciousness. But it puts the power back in the individual's hands--and not in the shape of a pill.
Framingham resident Ingrid Peschke is a Christian Science practitioner who frequently writes about the relationship between spirituality, consciousness and health. You can read more on her website at www.masshealthblog.com.