Insurers Continue Pushing Drugs for Pain Management, Ignoring Successful Alternative Treatments

Following our July focus on WC issues, here we have an alternate viewpoint on opioid use: current insurance models continue to push for opioid and NSAID drug treatment for pain management, despite the spreading opioid abuse epidemic. Successful alternative medicine clinic owner JinLi Wang points to treatments for chronic pain including chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy, which treats pain with few side effects while improving function.

Opioid abuse has become a serious public health concern reaching epidemic levels in the United States. Misuse of opioids accounts for over 1,000 emergency room visits every day. As many as one in 10 adults suffers from a condition causing chronic pain typically treated with prescription pain medications. Despite this news, current insurance models favor traditional pain management.  JinLi Wang, Co-Founder of the chiropractic marketing  group Local Marketing, LLC (, indicates that current insurance models favor prescription drug treatment with opioids or NSAIDs over alternative treatments—despite the published benefits of alternative treatments.

JinLi Wang was a successful practitioner and owner of the largest and most profitable Chinese Medicine Clinic in the U.S. In communicating report findings with chiropractors, she discovered that the key missing factor in most practices was a consistent flow of new patients. Her passion for natural healthcare led her to shift her focus to helping the chiropractic profession with comprehensive marketing, something that was lacking. As natural medical professionals, chiropractors weren’t familiar with the difference between marketing and sales, much less how to reach out for help in marketing their practice.

As doctors and patients look for alternatives to opioids, chiropractic marketing experts are touting the benefits that chiropractic therapy can provide. A recent study indicates that the spinal manipulative therapy used by chiropractors can provide both improvements in pain and function. Preliminary data from another study suggests that there is approximately a 56-57% reduction in opioid use when chiropractic care has been utilized in a patient’s treatment.

“Most insurance companies charge a much greater co-payment for visiting a chiropractor versus a general practitioner,” says Wang. “For years, these doctors were encouraged to prescribe opioids to treat chronic pain.” Opioids were pushed by pharmaceutical companies as a safe alternative to short-acting narcotics. Doctors were instructed that, because opioids were time-released, they would not produce a high that would lead to addiction.

In addition to the benefits of chiropractic therapy, the risk of serious adverse reactions is negligible. Patients receiving opioid narcotics for chronic pain, on the other hand, are less likely to recover function and may experience constipation, sexual dysfunction, cognitive impairment, addiction, and overdosing. Patients receiving opioids long-term may also become more sensitive to pain.  Opioids numb pain and may persuade a patient that their condition is less serious than it is, potentially leading to a patient hurting themselves through overexertion.

Opioid abuse levels and the growing body of research validating chiropractic services has led the medical community to re-examine its approach to pain management. The new American College of Physicians (ACP) guidelines for low back pain treatment recommend trying a non-invasive, non-drug treatment prior to resorting to pharmaceutical therapies. The 2017 ACP guidelines cite heat therapy, massage, acupuncture and spinal manipulative therapy as alternative methods. Similarly, the 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidelines for chronic pain treatment that promote non-drug treatments.  The Joint Commission—an organization that is responsible for accrediting 20,000 healthcare systems in the United States—has also added chiropractic and acupuncture therapy to its pain management standard.

JinLi Wang added that “Chiropractors and alternative medicine practitioners will need to become proficient in marketing their skills to combat the issues of insurance diversion—in order to help a greater number of patients and have a positive effect on the growing opioid epidemic.