Cleveland Clinic tackles opioid epidemic by treating pain without painkillers

Posted at 6:00 AM, May 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 07:46:16-04

As the opioid crisis surges in Northeast Ohio, a group of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic is doing what they can to stop it.

Like millions of Americans, Bailey Gaillard suffered for years battling chronic back and joint pain.

“I’ve been to a lot of different doctors, I’ve been to a lot of physical therapists and stuff, I never really wanted to be on opiates, so they gave me some stronger non-opiate painkillers and they just didn’t help at all,” she said.

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Fearful of addiction, Gaillard steered clear of opiate painkillers, but her pain persisted. She thought she’d tried it all that was until, at the recommendation of her doctor, she enrolled in the Cleveland Clinic’s Back on TREK program where spine specialists have joined with physical therapists and psychologists to treat patient pain without prescribing painkillers.

“It’s not important to me anymore. The pain still exists but there’s so much more going on in my life besides pain that I’m able to just kind of be like, 'oh well there’s pain, hi,' and then move on with my day,” said Gaillard.

Six months ago, Spinal Surgeon and Chair of the Cleveland Clinic Spine Institute, Dr. Ed Benzel helped create the program.

“We’re trying to break a cycle so that the patient actually can improve,” said Benzel.

Avoiding opioids was the number one reason behind starting Back on TREK. Benzel said opioids can actually make pain worse by spawning an acceleration of patient’s pain, which leads to a dose increase, which can ultimately lead to addiction.

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“I have a number of patients who are on narcotic medications and who were able to get off the medications and they said, 'I would’ve never believed it, but I feel better off the medication than when I was on the medication,'” said Benzel.

The program combines physical therapy, with psychological therapy by treating the pain through mind and body training. Success is measured by patients who take a test assessing their overall well-being before and after the 12-week program. So far, Benzel is seeing major success.

“Patients are doing very well, better than prior strategies that had been previously used for the management of this patient population,” he said.

“I can manage my pain without needing any kind of prescriptions,” said Gaillard.

If you suffer from chronic back pain and would like to give Back on TREK a try, you can call the main appointment desk at 216-363-2124 or email