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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Self-Medicating Chronic Pain

Chronic pain affects and will continue to disrupt the lives of millions of Americans. This nation’s efforts to ease the suffering of people living with chronic pain have a huge hand in creating the opioid epidemic we face. While prescription opioids are highly addictive and rife with the potential for abuse, it turns out that a large number of people who are abusing these types of drugs are not looking for a high, but rather a respite from pain.

At Boston University, researchers studied 589 people, from survey data of around 25,000 patients that visited a primary care physician, who met the diagnostic criteria for drug abuse or illicit drug use, Medical Daily reports. Of the 589 patients, 87 percent reported chronic pain and 74 percent of which reported that the pain affected their ability to function normally. The research was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“While the association between chronic pain and drug addiction has been observed in prior studies, this study goes one step further to quantify how many of these patients are using these substances specifically to treat chronic pain,” lead author Dr. Daniel Alford said in a news release. “It also measures the prevalence of chronic pain in patients who screen positive for illegal drug use and prescription drug abuse.”

The study did not just focus on prescription opioids; it looked at a number of drugs commonly used for self medicating pain symptoms as well. The researchers found that of the 576 patients who used marijuana, cocaine and/or heroin, more than half of them (51 percent) said that they were attempting to ease their pain symptoms, according to the article. There were 265 patients who reported having engaged in heavy drinking in the past three months, of which, 38 percent said they were drinking heavy to combat their chronic pain.

“Pain should be treated as part of the long-term strategy for recovery, Alford adds. “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.”

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