KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Drug overdose deaths are hitting record numbers in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the country in the 12 months ending in May 2020, which is the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period.
While overdose deaths were already increasing before the pandemic, the report by the CDC indicates an acceleration of deaths during the pandemic.
Of the deaths, synthetic opioids are the main driver of the increase. For people who use opioids for chronic pain, there are other options.
Ron Bennett, 66, has said goodbye to opioids and is now living a pain-free life thanks to an alternative treatment at Saint Luke's Health System.
Bennett suffered with chronic back and leg pain for most of his life. He grew accustomed to living with it until it became unbearable.
"It feels like there is no way out and you're just desperate for somebody to give you some kind of relief," Bennett said. "You can't think, you can't work, you can't enjoy your life at all. It robs you of everything."
To help with the pain, Bennett started taking opioids, but he knew they came with a risk. He wanted a more permanent solution.
"I didn't even want to go down that road. I wanted something that would work without drugs," Bennett said.
Bennett found a solution that worked for him with Dr. Jeffrey Foster, an interventional pain physician at Saint Luke's.
The HF10 device is a high-frequency spinal cord stimulator that uses electrical pulses to relieve pain. Foster said unlike older traditional spinal cord stimulation devices, the high-frequency pulses do not create a tingling or pricking sensation, thus working for more patients and providing better relief for both back and leg pain.
"Using interventional pain the way we are using it with the stimulator has been one way we've seen has been really effective of combating both the risks of opioid prescriptions but also just improving a patient's quality of life," Foster said.
Bennett can attest to that.
"Life is wonderful, and it wouldn't have been if I hadn't been able to find a permanent solution to my back problems without drugs. I feel completely free and happy, I enjoy my life, I'm 100% better," Bennett said.
As the U.S. sees an acceleration of opioid overdoses, Foster said there are warning signs to look for, such as slowing of breathing. He said patients should see an interventional pain physician to find alternative methods of relief.