In the past, Lisa Morris self-medicated to help numb her pain. With help from Belleville’s Primary Care Low Back Pain program, Lisa’s life has done a 180: she’s self-employed as an artist, sleeping well and has given up pain pills.

When Lisa describes her first visit to the Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic (NPLC) in Belleville, Ont., 10 years ago, she admits she was a physical and emotional mess. Years of abuse going back to her childhood and at the hands of her ex-husband had taken their toll, and Lisa was medicating her pain away.

“Things fester, but you’ve got to pay the bills so you push away the aches and pains — and the next thing you know you’re taking pills,” she says, acknowledging she eventually used alcohol, too. “It didn’t matter, just anything to take the edge off so I could keep moving.”

Calling the clinic “an absolute saviour,” Lisa says her life has done a complete 180 since then. She’s now remarried, a self-employed artist and has given up pain pills.

Although initially hesitant to pursue chiropractic care, Lisa joined Belleville NPLC’s Primary Care Low Back Pain program, launched in 2015 by the Ontario government. Belleville NPLC is one of seven Ontario locations chosen to offer patients with low back pain access to funded treatment from chiropractors, physiotherapists or kinesiologists.

Lisa ended up seeing Dr. Flynn, a chiropractor with over 40 years of experience. She says he asked questions and listened, as did the other professionals at Belleville NPLC. He also gave her a new way to look at her pain: as a helpful guide rather than the enemy.

“When people come to see me, I’m trying to get them to understand that they don’t necessarily have to turn to medication,” he says.

Karen Clayton-Roberts, clinic director at Belleville NPLC and a nurse practitioner, says the collaborative team approach to addressing acute and chronic low back pain not only helps patients who are already addicted to opioids, but can keep others from being prescribed opioids in the first place.

“The key is access — and to get them the care as soon as possible. Because the longer you wait, the more likely the patient will go to medication,” she says.

The results of the program highlight the success of non-drug therapies and their ability to reduce the need to use pain killers. Of the 146 patients surveyed, 83 per cent indicate they now rely less on medication to help manage their low back pain.

While Lisa found support to help her on the road to health, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians caught up in today’s opioid crisis who haven’t been as lucky. Opioids — such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl — are natural or synthetic drugs used to reduce pain. While they can be an effective tool for short-term pain management for some patients, they often carry risks and do more harm than good for many others.

Both Dr. Flynn and Lisa hope the Ontario government will fund the Primary Care Low Back Pain program at other sites beyond the first seven to help people across the province.

“I’m absolutely much more aware of my body and I have mental clarity,” says Lisa. “I mean, I’m sleeping clear and sound. It’s just been a huge difference.”

This story is adapted from this article: Collaborative care helps stem the tide of Canada’s opioid crisis, which was produced by Globe Content Studio and published in The Globe and Mail.