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Valley program to educate doctors about opioid alternatives for pain relief


PHOENIX — In his State of the State address this week, Gov. Doug Ducey said he wants to take a “more aggressive approach” to combat the opioid epidemic in Arizona.

One Valley health plan might have a solution.

“We’re hearing a lot about opioid deaths and people hospitalized because of opioids, but we are really wanting to turn the conversation to what to do instead,” said Dr. Elisa Mashal, medical director for Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care.

She is leading a program through Mercy Care Plan and Mercy Maricopa to educate doctors and providers about multiple alternatives to opioids for treating different types of pain. The program entails meeting with doctors one-on-one and talking to them about the different alternatives for pain relief.

They’re also providing a guide called “If At First You Don’t Prescribe” outlining the various alternatives.

Among the alternatives is a combination of ibuprofen and Tylenol, which Mashal said has been proven in studies to be “more effective than opioids for treating most kinds of pain.”

For nerve pain, she said opioids are “really not effective.” Instead, she said nerve pain is best treated with some of the same medications used to treat depression and seizures.

She said other alternatives to opioids include different kinds of therapies, exercise and even yoga.

“What all these alternatives have in common is that they’re not opioids and they’re not addictive and they won’t increase the death rate and all of the horrible things that we’re seeing as a result of opioids,” Mashal said.

The materials presented to doctors and providers through the program will soon be made available to the public.

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