Michael Kennedy knows all about coping with chronic pain. While vacationing in Mexico, he fell off a third-story balcony, breaking his back, his pelvis and both of his ankles. He would eventually have his right leg amputated.
“(Doctors) told me I was never going to walk again,” he says. “I was just in excruciating pain all the time.”
In an attempt to numb that pain, doctors gave Kennedy a smorgasbord of prescription pills, which led to an opioid addiction that almost caused him to take his life.
“Thank God I was so banged up on pain pills that I nodded off that my thumb hit the trigger and shot a hole in the ceiling but missed me,” Kennedy recalls.
Now, a team of medical professionals is a conducting a study with the goal of helping people like Kennedy.
Amy Wachholtz, Ph.D. of CU Denver, has a goal of treating both chronic pain and opioid dependency simultaneously.
“Because otherwise patients are struggling with multiple providers who may or may not communicate, who may have different treatment goals related to the outcomes,” she says.
Dr. Wachholtz’s study is underway, and she is still recruiting new patients.
Her colleagues are also looking for new ways to fight this epidemic.
“These are not illicit fentanyl and things off the street; these are prescription medicines that people are talking and it turns out they are pretty dangerous,” she says.
Narayana Varhabhatla, M.D. of the UCHealth Pain Management Clinic, says prescribed opioids are responsible for about 40 deaths a deaths a day in America, and that there are very few studies, if any, that chronic pain gets better with opioid use.
“The problem is that we don’t know how to fix chronic pain,” Dr. Varhabhatla says. “It really is a matter of digging deep and seeing if you can find the problem and seeing if you can take care of the root of the problem.”
For Kennedy to finally recover, it meant combining his mind, body and spirit.
“For me to stay clean, personally, physical fitness has to be a part of it,” he says.
Kennedy’s cure from chronic pain no longer comes from prescription pills, but rather from yoga.
“To get out of this, I have to be taking care of myself,” he says. “And Bikram is the best way that I found.”