New awareness on benefits of over-the-counter pain meds vs. opioids

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The UVM Medical Center's overall prescribing for opiates in the state is down 30-percent since 2015. But that number could be lower thanks to new awareness about the role of over-the-counter medications in pain management.

"Understand that there's many conditions people don't need opiates for," said UVM's Dr. Stephen Leffler.

And national studies agree. A recent article out of New York shows some patients get opiates for pain when over-the-counter medications would work with fewer risks for addiction. "This is really people who walk in to a clinic for care," Leffler said.

Leffler says opiates aren't the answer for minor injuries. "An ankle sprain, a bruise on your leg, a slip and fall, but not a significant broken bone," he said.

But he says they are often needed following larger injuries. And while that makes sense, it still doesn't ignore the fact that researchers found patients have been given opiates unnecessarily in the past.

Reporter Melissa Sheketoff: Do you think urgent care doctors may have played a role? In those conversations maybe they did recommend opioids over over-the-counter medications that would have worked just as well.
Dr. Stephen Leffler: I think all providers have had some role in the current crisis we are in.

So how do we improve the system? Dr. Leffler says the next time you walk into a clinic, the medical professionals should have an extensive conversation with you about using over-the-counter meds before recommending opiates to relieve your pain.

Reporter Melissa Sheketoff: Doesn't that usually happen?
Dr. Stephen Leffler: I think it always happened before, but now with the new law in Vermont it's required to happen.

A law that local doctors hope will fight the opiate crisis plaguing the state. "We have to not be defensive of the literature coming out, but accepting of it and alter our practice going forward," Leffler said.

He thinks recent changes like the new law will bring providers closer to how they were prescribing 15 years ago, and over-the-counter meds are a part of that.