Treatment Options

In addressing any illness, physical or psychological, we know that different treatments work for different people. This begs the question, if a safe, low-cost treatment exists for a life-threatening condition, shouldn’t it be an option?

Left Breathless

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, approximately 250,000 people die prematurely each year from asthma.

I don’t consider myself an anxious person, but I’m anxious about keeping track of my prescription asthma rescue inhaler. If I lost it, I would have to return to the pharmacy where my prescription was filled to replace it. This wasn’t always the case.

For most of my life, I could walk into any drugstore, buy an over-the-counter rescue inhaler for under $20, and quell an asthma attack in less than a minute. In 2012 the only OTC rescue inhaler was taken off the market not because it wasn’t effective (its active ingredient is the same used in emergency rooms) but because the propellant that spritzed it into the lungs contributed to ozone depletion.

The company that made the OTC inhaler sought FDC approval for a revised version with the ecologically sound propellant (the same one that the current prescription inhalers used). Their application was denied. The FDC claimed that cleaning the unit (exactly the same instructions as the prescription inhaler) was too complicated.

Since my only other non-prescription option was an emergency room, I made an appointment to see a doctor. He gave me a 10-day sample of an inhaler to prevent attacks (co-pay $220 a month) and a prescription for a rescue inhaler (co-pay $44).

The sample asthma prevention inhaler that the doctor gave me triggered the worst asthma attack I’ve suffered in decades. The active ingredient in the prescription rescue inhaler didn’t stop it for more than a few minutes, and if I hadn’t found a nebulizer version of the active ingredient of my old OTC inhaler (cost $60) at the local drug store, my only other option was the emergency room.

That event made me wonder how many people died each year and how many health care dollars spent because a proven OTC treatment was no longer available.

A Painful Addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine states Opioids led to 20,101 prescription pain reliever and 12,990 heroin overdose deaths 2015.

In the NPR news story, “Breakthrough Pain Treatment Or Snake Oil? You Decide,” Joe Palca illustrates the financial obstacle of bringing a non-addictive pain reliever to market. A researcher at the University of Texas has developed an effective topical pain cream, but since it doesn’t employ a patented molecule (its key ingredient, resveratrol, is found in red wine and numerous other wellness products already on the market) no drug company could recoup enough of a profit through a patent monopoly to invest in clinical trials.

Resveratrol is harmless, so the researcher decided to make the cream available online. But, since it’s not marketed by a major pharmaceutical company as a pain treatment, you won’t hear about it from a doctor.

Traumatic Stress

The Veterans Stress Project states Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is responsible for 22 veteran suicides a day.

Congressman Tim Ryan makes the case to the head of the Veterans Administration (VA) to offer a non-drug PTSD treatment, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

“A randomized controlled trial showed significant improvement in 86% of veterans with clinical PTSD after just six EFT acupressure treatment sessions. A number of peer-reviewed studies, such as one randomized controlled trial by Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, found that EFT effectively remediated PTSD. Another trial showed that compared to talk therapy, EFT significantly lowers cortisol levels. Other research found normalization of stress-related EEG frequencies in the brain following EFT. In fact, a review in an American Psychological Association (APA) journal identified 51 peer-reviewed papers analyzing the tapping of acupuncture points to address psychological issues.

“A recent report found the lifetime cost of treating PTSD in a single veteran to be $1.4 million dollars. Multiply that by an estimated 500,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD and you get $700 billion. That’s the potential cost of not doing more to remediate PTSD in our veterans.”

I attended a local Meetup.com group to learn about how EFT compared to the more established non-drug treatment Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

It took about five minutes for Helen McConnell to demonstrate the technique, which combines tapping acupressure points with simple self-acceptance cognitive techniques that both EFT and MBSR use. Two people who had specific pains to work on (one physical, one emotional) both claimed that the EFT session helped a lot. I don’t know enough about acupressure to assess the tapping part, but I know that many forms of touch therapy (from massage to good long hugs) can lower cortisol levels. Focusing attention on the part of the body that is stressed or in pain is a focus of MBSR and other pain management practices.

A Psychology Today blog post explains how EFT works through the experience of a Marine Corps vet who had been traumatized by being forced to shoot a child. “That came back to me night after night for years,” he said. “After tapping, you still have the emotion, but it doesn’t own you. It’s not overwhelming. It’s just a memory.”

Ten Minute Exercise

Here are a couple of possible treatment options. If your depression stems from chronic pain, take 3:30 min. to listen to the Joe Palca piece and decide whether Ted’s Pain Cream sounds like it’s worth a try.

If your depression is related to post-traumatic stress, check out the 5:35 video at the Veterans Stress Project for more information about EFT.

Author: Bruce Cantwell

Writer, journalist and long-time mindfulness practitioner.