More than 115 people die every day in the U.S. as a direct result of opioid overdose. That’s a startling statistic. As we search for ways to bring the numbers down, some are suggesting that embracing stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapies can be a big help. So, can stem cell/PRP actually help bring an end to the opioid crisis?
At least one doctor thinks it’s so, according to a post published by the Chicago Evening Post on May 1. Without getting into all the details, the doctor in question is a California physician who utilizes both stem cell and PRP therapies to treat patients suffering from muscle, ligament, and cartilage damage. Many patients are osteoarthritis patients; others may be dealing with the aftermath of accidents, sports injuries, and so forth.
The Post report cites four troubling statistics in support of replacing opioids with regenerative medicine procedures:
- 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids misuse them
- 8-12% of opioid-using patients go on to develop opioid use disorder
- 4-6% of opioid abusers eventually transition to heroin
- 80% of heroin users previously abused prescription opioids.
It is sobering to realize just how much of the current opioid crisis relates directly to prescription medications. And don’t forget the indirect relationship either. Even among users not getting their drugs via prescription and getting them on the street. They are available because drug companies make them. They are made because consumers want them.
A Regenerative Medicine Alternative
The Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI), a Utah organization that trains doctors in the use of stem cell and PRP therapies, promotes both procedures as alternatives to surgery and pain medication use. In the case of the latter, keeping patients off opioids is the goal. Long-term opioid use just isn’t good for a person.
So, how do the therapies work? Both stem cell and PRP injections are not miracle cures for chronic pain. But they have proven themselves effective for pain management. The science behind them is based in the body’s natural ability to heal itself if given the right prompting to do so.
Doctors use one or both treatments to stimulate natural healing by injecting the stem cell/PRP material directly into the site of injury. In the case of PRP injections, the material includes concentrated platelets along with a number of growth factors and essential nutrients that signal the body that it’s time to start healing.
In the case of stem cell injections, the injected serum includes stem cells harvested from the same patient being treated. They also promote healing and provide some of the raw materials necessary for doing so.
Safe, Effective, Minimally Invasive
When practiced in accordance with proper procedures, stem cell and PRP therapies are safe, effective, and minimally invasive. Note that patient safety correlates to treating them using their own blood or stem cells. This all but eliminates the risk of rejection or unsafe complications.
In terms of being minimally invasive, both procedures limit patient exposure to nothing more than a couple of needle pokes. Compare that to knee replacement surgery – which is about as invasive as one can get. The more invasive a procedure is, the greater the risk for complications.
There is a steadily growing number of experts starting to believe that regenerative medicine could be a very effective tool in fighting the opioid crisis. Some go as far as to say that PRP and stem cell treatments could all but end the crisis by keeping people away from prescription opioids altogether. The idea is worth considering.