By Kathy Walsh
DENVER (CBS4) – The U.S. is considered in the throes of an opioid epidemic. In 2015, more than two million Americans suffered from opioid dependence or addiction.
People often get hooked after taking pills prescribed for pain, but there are alternative therapies. Patrick Gaines is proof they can work.
CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh met Gaines when he had a sensor hooked from his ear to a computer showing how stress was affecting his body. Using biofeedback, he was learning to train his body to calm down.
Biofeedback is one of the many therapies the 51-year-old uses to manage the constant pain that radiates from his back down his left side.
“Almost as if you had a very intense third degree sunburn and were trying to cool it with blocks of dry ice,” said Gaines explaining the pain that hurts when clothing, water, or even wind, touches it.
In 2014, Gaines had a benign tumor removed from his spine. His spinal cord was injured. Doctors prescribed opioids for the excruciating pain. Gaines added alcohol and marijuana.
“My son was finding me essentially unconscious,” said the single father.
At his son’s urging, Gaines went to rehab and emerged embracing acupuncture and Reiki. With psychologist Dr. Meredith Shefferman at UCHealth Integrative Medicine Center he does biofeedback and meditation.
“You can learn to actually sit with pain without all the mental anguish and despair,” said Shefferman.
And Gaines has been cleared to climb mountains and run ultra marathons.
“It is a beautiful and pleasant distraction from the pain,” said the avid, amateur athlete.
It may take 10 years or more, but Gaines’ spinal cord may gradually heal. For now, alternative therapies give him some relief and hope.
“I just think about today and then the next day, one day at a time,” said Gaines.