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The ongoing opioid crisis in the U.S. reflects the unintended consequences of an effort to control pain by masking it. We're paying a terrible price.

The opioid epidemic is, in many ways, fueled by a misguided approach to pain treatment that places an overreliance on the use of addictive opioids. Pain can be difficult to treat, and presents differently in different people: that's why an integrated, multidisciplinary pain management system is the best way to respond. It's a system that must include evidence-based, nonpharmacological approaches such as physical therapy, as supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why It Matters

When the CDC issued its guideline for prescribing opioids in 2016, more than 42,000 people in the United States died from an opioid overdose, including more than 17,000 whose deaths were attributed to prescription opioid overdoses. Deaths caused by overdose of prescription opioids quadrupled in 15 years until, in 2019, deaths from overdose were actually contributing to declining life expectancy in some segments of the U.S. population. Physical therapy offers a proven, cost-effective, and safe way to manage pain, and in turn save lives.

Our position

APTA supports efforts to increase patient access to nonpharmacologic approaches to pain treatment, including reducing copays, encourage early access to nondrug pain management, and educating the public on treatment options.

Recommended Content

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Additional Safe Pain Management Advocacy Content

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The macroeconomic review of eight conditions shows how physical therapy delivers cost-effectiveness through quality-of-life improvements.

APTA's Advocacy Road Map: Empowerment for the Profession, Results for Patients

Feb 8, 2023 / News

The association's public policy priorities are aimed at unleashing physical therapy's potential to take on pressing health care challenges.

Lawmakers Urge Veterans Affairs to Raise Pay, Expand Roles of PTs and PTAs

Jul 5, 2022 / News

In an advocacy win, APTA-supported recommendations aimed at increasing veterans' access to PTs and PTAs are now part of a spending bill.

Providing a Safe Alternative to Opioids: Research

Aug 4, 2020 / Resource

Research validates that early access to physical therapy can prevent acute pain from becoming chronic pain.

Some Progress on Opioids

Jun 1, 2019 / Column

Payer policies and laws are changing. Still, it remains far too difficult for consumers to "Choose PT."

Final HHS Report on Pain Management Adds to Drumbeat for Better Access to N...

May 31, 2019 / News

The final report from an HHS inter-agency task force calls for greater collaborative care and improved access to physical therapy.

Rewiring the Brain to Ease Chronic Pain

May 1, 2019 / Feature

Strategies for treating pain are evolving-and physical therapists are helping to lead the way.

Large-Scale Study Finds Connection Between Early Physical Therapy and Lower...

Dec 14, 2018 / Review

For patients experiencing back, knee, neck, or shoulder pain, a visit to a PT early on can reduce the chances that they'll take any opioids for the condition.

Beyond Opioids: Transforming Pain Management to Improve Health

Dec 6, 2018 / Position Paper

We support and advocate for physical therapist to be part of the solution to the opiod epidemic.

Study: Many Gaps Still Exist in Insurer Coverage of Nondrug Treatments for LBP

Oct 16, 2018 / Review

There's a lack of consistency in factors such as copays, referral requirements, prior authorization, and treatment limits.