Accidental Overdoses in People With Chronic Pain
Accidental overdoses and chronic pain are two things that can unfortunately go hand-in-hand.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) up to one-third of the country’s population might be treated for chronic pain at some point in their lives. It is the primary reason for people to become disabled, and while there are many pain treatment options, the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions have increased significantly in recent years.
With the increase in prescriptions, there has been an increase in the number of patients admitted to medical facilities to be treated for opioid abuse and opioid addiction as well as a higher number of accidental overdoses being reported.
More Than Half of Opioid Overdoses Linked to Chronic Pain
With the opioid abuse increase in the U.S., it has been called the deadliest drug epidemic in the nation’s history. But, the epidemic has been driven by illegal, and not medically prescribed, abuse of the prescription painkillers.
A study by Columbia University Medical Center published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in November 2017 revealed that more than 60% of Americans who died from an opioid overdose suffered from chronic non-cancer-related pain. And, it revealed that 49% of those individuals had an opioid prescription filled in the month before their death, many of them having seen a doctor during that previous month.
The study involved 13,089 adults younger than 65 in the Medicaid program in 45 states who had died from an opioid overdose between 2001 and 2007. Many of those patients who overdosed struggled with anxiety or depression. In the year prior to their death, more than 50% of the patients included in the study had filled prescriptions for opioids or sedatives or depressants (benzodiazepines).
Many of those individuals had filled prescriptions for both kinds of drugs. Researchers have indicated that the frequency of mental health conditions and chronic pain occurring together can result in a high danger of combining the two kinds of drugs, which could cause respiratory depression, what is also called shallow breathing that could be life-threatening.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the number of people who died from an opioid overdose in the United States quadrupled from 1999 to 2015. Opioid prescribing guidelines were released from the CDC in March 2016, which recommend medical professionals who prescribe the drugs reduce the number of opioids used and use some safer alternatives, including physical therapy.
Treating pain through movement, physical therapists come up with a treatment plan to help patients either maintain or improve their mobility as well as the quality of life.
A study involving more than 135,000 opioid overdose victims from all walks of life revealed that only 13% were patients being treated for chronic pain. It is apparent that opioid use in the U.S. is a dangerous and mounting problem.
Because of the media coverage of increased opioid abuse and the epidemic, some healthcare workers’ attitudes toward opioid use has affected those who suffer from chronic pain and need the drugs.
One study indicated that when patients bring up the fact they suffer from severe pain, they are looked at with skepticism, judged and questioned repeatedly.
The number of opioid prescriptions started increasing in 1995 when Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, according the Annual Review of Public Health.
The journal said that from 1996 and 2002 Purdue Pharma funded more than 20,000 pain-related educational programs through grants or direct sponsorship and launched a campaign that encouraged long-term use of opioids for treating chronic pain not caused by cancer. Purdue Pharma pled guilty to federal charges for misleading doctors and patients in 2007, paying out more than $600 million in fines.
Why Are People Overdosing?
Those with chronic pain can suffer immensely. An investigation by 60 Minutes and the Washington Post revealed that pharmaceutical companies helped to lobby for and create a law that Congress passed to undermine the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) authority to stop flooding opioids into the market. The extreme marketing of opioids by pharmaceutical companies has changed drastically and President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency.”
There is a greater awareness of what opioids can do and the real risk of taking opioids. While opioids might be effective for treating pain, the body will build up a tolerance, which will require larger doses or more frequent doses to get the same relief.
Many patients decide to change doses themselves, and that leads to the accident overdoses that we are seeing today. Because confusion is one side effect of opioids, some patients might not remember their last dose and take too many pills too close together.