Prescription Drug Abuse and Chronic Pain
Many individuals have chronic pain issues and are abusing prescription drugs-whether prescribed to them or not-as a means to alleviate this pain. A recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, confirms this is the case. The study was conducted at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center where researchers screened 25,000 patients in primary care for abuse of prescription drugs and illegal drug use. Those participants who tested positive for having drugs in their system -589 individuals- were asked to answer questions about substance abuse and chronic pain. Interestingly, 87% who tested positive for having prescription drugs in their systems admitted to struggling with chronic pain that the majority rated as being severe pain. Half of those that tested positive for illegal drugs such as opioids or marijuana also claimed they were ingesting the drugs to lessen the physical chronic pain they were experiencing.
Further, many individuals participating in the study were shown to be abusing medications that were not prescribed to them. In fact, eighty percent of those using drugs without a prescription were actually misusing the prescription medications. Abusing prescription medications, whether or not they were prescribed, can be very dangerous.
It is important that all individuals with chronic pain have their pain treated properly while recovering from their addictions. The study suggested that current counseling focused only on informing patients about the negative outcomes of drug abuse may overlook an important aspect of why people are abusing these substances. Co-author Daniel Alford, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean of Continuing Medical Education and director of the Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education (SCOPE of Pain) program at BUSM, and director of BMC’s Clinical Addiction Research and Education Unit indicated that, “Pain should be treated as part of the long-term strategy for recovery. If drugs are being used to self-medicate pain, patients may be reluctant to decrease, stop, or remain abstinent if their pain symptoms are not adequately managed with other treatments including non-medication-based treatments.”