Addicts with Chronic Pain May Finally Get Some Relief

July 28, 2016
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick

The strongest pain pill prescriptions come with the potential risk of addiction. For patients who are already battling the disease, finding pain relief presents quite a challenge.

The strongest pain pill prescriptions come with the potential risk of addiction. For patients who are already battling the disease, finding pain relief presents quite a challenge.

Researchers from VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System’s Center for Clinical Management Research and University of Michigan Medical School’s Addiction Center (U-M) aimed to find an effective analgesia strategy for this population — and they believe that they have. Through a combination of behavioral therapy and social support, a study found positive results for those fighting addiction and chronic pain.

“Past studies of psychosocial approaches for pain have often excluded people with drug or alcohol problems, addiction treatment programs do not usually have providers trained in pain care, and many pain specialists will not treat people who also have addiction. So patients are caught in the middle,” lead author Mark Ilgen, PhD, a psychologist as VA and U-M, said in a news release.

  • Related: More Pain Equals Higher Risk of Prescription Opioid Addiction

As described in the journal Addiction, 129 veterans were split to either receive Improving Pain during Addiction Treatment (ImPAT) or supportive psychoeducational control (SPC). ImPAT involved pain-focused behavioral therapy and social support while also receiving treatment for addiction. The SPC approach, however, was less focused on pain.

Over 12 months, the researchers found that those receiving ImPAT had a greater reduction in pain intensity. In addition, they had better function and alcohol use declined when compared to the SPC group. Drug use rates, however, were similar between both treatment groups.

“These results highlight the need for addiction treatment programs to offer a multifaceted approach that doesn’t only address substance use but also the other factors that might be driving substance use, including pain,” explained Ilgen, who specializes in addiction research.

More good news associated with these findings is that ImPAT is a low-cost approach and can even help improve pain in those without addiction — all without opioids and other painkillers.

The next step in this research is already underway as the team is looking at 480 non-veterans in a residential addiction treatment program.

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