SCARBOROUGH — For some veterans and sufferers of chronic pain, treatments with opioids and narcotics have not been as effective as they had hoped.

David Eggert, a Presque Isle resident who served in Afghanistan, has been travelling down to Maine Comprehensive Pain Management in Scarborough for the past 10 years after having tried narcotics and finding the side effects to be unpleasant, he said.

Seeing Dr. Terence Gray, lead physician of Maine Comprehensive Pain Management, Eggert said he has found that he has a much better quality of life.

“There’s just a lot of different things out there and nobody really talks about them a lot of the time when you go to the doctor,” he said. “Most people are looking for ‘Here, take your pill and you get better.’ There are other options besides taking pills, and I think that’s good to know. It’s getting more prevalent now. I think now most doctors are aware that there’s other things people or veterans can do so they’re not just stuck going one way with drugs or alcohol or whatever.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or the VA, reduced the number of prescription opioids written for veterans by 64 percent between 2012 and 2020, said the department in July last year.

In Maine, which was listed in the National Institute on Drug Abuse as the 10th highest for opioid-related deaths in the country in 2018, many veterans and sufferers of chronic pain are looking for providers who offer alternative treatments, like Gray and John Charlebois, a licensed acupuncturist and co-owner of Jade Integrated Health in Portland and Brunswick.

When studying pain management at a fellowship in Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, Gray said he found that narcotics were not generally making patients better and usually had side effects. He found that using different approaches that complement one another can be more effective.

“Medicine is an art, we say, more than it’s a science,” he said. “By doing an individualized assessment that approaches each patient, it is often easier to establish where the pain generators are because unless you actually fully assess the patient, it’s hard to tell where the pain is coming from, and that assessment includes a very important part, patient input. Generally, when I see a patient, I read their history. I look at any medical studies that may have been done on that patient, and then I do a thorough physical exam and I’ll ask the patients many questions and I’ll wait for them to give me answers.”

Other pain management options for veterans and others suffering from chronic pain include ablations, Botox injections, and more.

Gray said the motto where he works is “specialists in getting your life back.”

“I’ve had a patient say, ‘That’s amazing, and it’s so true. Where’d you come up with that?'” he said. “I tell them I actually didn’t. We’ve had so many patients over the years tell us that we’ve given them their life back that I thought that was a good slogan to put up there. We’re fortunate. We have at least 90 percent of our patients that get a positive result from therapies that we initiate with patients. That can be therapies with injections or meds that we prescribe or may be alternative therapy like acupuncture, manipulation, physical therapy, psychological services. But in using all of these different modalities, we have at least 90 percent of our patients getting a significant portion of relief.”

Charlebois, who practices eastern medical, said that in the 20 years since he and his wife opened a 620-square-foot office in Portland, they see about 10 patients a week. He said the type of alternative services they provide have proved so popular they are planning to open a third location.

“We have people who practice occupational therapy, physical therapy, massage, yoga and traditional Asian medicines in different forms, whether it be a style that originated from Japan or Northern China or Southern China,” he said. “We bring all that together, and it’s been that model of a blend, a collaboration between eastern and western medicine that has brought on a growth. Our culture is that we ask everybody to work together towards a common goal. When you get a physical therapist and an acupuncturist in the same room, devising strategy for a positive outcome for a patient, the things that get our attention are the things you’re not going to see being treated in your standard western environment.”

Gil Hemlick, a veteran, has received yoga therapy, acupuncture and physical therapy treatments for the last few years at Charlesbois’ practice, finding that the results have been transformative.

“I couldn’t go upstairs,” he said. “I would fall going upstairs and downstairs and I would be walking in the street and lose my balance and fall. I was being treated for PTSD and also for chronic pain and disability in my back, and it was one of the people at Jade who actually led the diagnosis of the pain in my back, what the cause was from.. That was actually created by the military and didn’t show up until later in life.”

Hemlick has been attending yoga therapy sessions once a week, he said. The sessions have provided him physical, emotional and psychological relief.

“Sometimes I have the experience that my right leg is dying and after a session, I know that is neurological,” Hemlick said. “Because a yoga teacher showed me a different way to do one yoga practice, it opened that realization to me. Put yourself in that situation and imagine the release, of course, from the physical pain, but also the psychological pressure that your leg is dying.”

Besides pinpointing the signs and symptoms of disease, Charlebois said he can also improve the conditions of what’s either antagonizing the disease or making it worse.

“I’m not only looking at the pain in its physical sense but how it affects the person emotionally and mentally as well,” he said. “It’s inherent in the approach and the treatment style of traditional Chinese medicine truly is a holistic modality. When I’m treating pain, I’m also partially treating the stress response that the person experiences. Chronic pain can bring about a lot of anxiety and depression, and there are actual things I can include in a treatment which can reduce those emotional and mental states due to the stress of chronic pain.”

He said traditional Chinese medicine can complement western practices.

Gray said he has treated many veterans at his practice.

“We treat veterans all the time,” he said. “In part because I feel that as a country we have an obligation to treat our veterans because not only me, but everybody in this country wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t have our veterans fighting for our freedom. I feel that there’s a tremendous debt to our veterans, and therefore, I treat lots of vets often through the VA system but also veterans who have private practitioners who are referred to us as well.”

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