More Pain Equals Higher Risk of Prescription Opioid Addiction

A new study out of Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) is the first to show a direct link between pain level and risk of opioid addiction – and the increased risk is substantial.

A new study out of Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) is the first to show a direct link between pain level and risk of opioid addiction — and the increased risk is substantial.

It’s already well-known that key factors, such as age, sex, and personal or family history, can help predict prescription drug abuse risk. While pain levels may have been suspected to also influence the risk, researchers finally have evidence to back up that belief.

Pain was measured using the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Participants rated pain-related interference in daily activities and dichotomized on a five-point scale from no or little interference to moderate to extreme interference. Interviews were conducted to evaluate prescription opioid use disorders — using the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule-DSM-IV version.

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The cohort consisted of more than 34,000 adults in two waves — from 2001 to 2002 and 2004 to 2005. As described in The American Journal of Psychiatry, other factors, like anxiety and mood disorders, were taken into consideration.

“These findings indicted that adults who report moderate and more severe pain are at increased risk of becoming addicted to prescription opioids,” Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, professor of psychiatry at CUMC, said in a news release. The analysis revealed a 41% higher risk of opioid addiction for those with severe pain.

In addition, females and older adults were found to be more likely to report pain than their counterparts. The findings also supported previous studies that pinpointed males and younger adults for increased risk of prescription opioid use disorders.

“In light of the national opioid abuse epidemic, these new results underscore the importance of developing effective, multimodal approaches to managing common painful medical conditions,” Olfson continued. “If opioids are prescribed, it is important for clinicians to monitor their patients carefully for warning signs of opioid addiction.”

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