Chronic pain affects around 100 million people in the United States. Between 5 and 8 million Americans use prescription painkillers to manage their long-term pain. In light of these numbers, prescription opioids are becoming the most prevalent drugs in the United States, and painkillers containing the narcotic hydrocodone are the most commonly prescribed drug in the country. However, as the prescriptions written for opioids have risen dramatically, so have the number of overdose deaths. A recent report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) argued for a change in the way healthcare providers deal with chronic pain patients to end the painkiller abuse epidemic.
The NIH held a workshop of chronic pain treatment experts and speakers that reviewed research and numerous journals about prescription medications for pain treatment in the United States. Their findings were recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The NIH reported that, based on its evaluations, there is not enough evidence and research to support the long-term effectiveness of opioids related to pain, function, or quality of life.
There are many reports of the adverse effects of prescription opioids, including nausea, mental clouding, respiratory depression, physical dependence, and overdose death. It is estimated that between five and twenty-five percent of patients prescribed pain medications for long-term use will become addicted. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were around 17,000 deaths related to opioids.
The NIH recommends that patients dealing with chronic pain receive individualized and patient-centered care to effectively and safely treat their symptoms. The lead researcher states: “Treatment approaches have been generalized with little evidence to support this practice. Chronic pain spans a multitude of conditions, presents in different ways, and requires an individualized, multifaceted approach.” The NIH says that other forms of pain treatments should be considered, such as alternative and complementary medicine and physical therapy.
While the government has cut funding to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the researchers recommend that in order to maximize patient safety and to take into account different patient perspectives and conditions, there needs to be an increase in research and development on “pain, multidisciplinary pain interventions, the long-term effectiveness and safety of opioids, optimal opioid management and risk mitigation strategies.”
While some painkillers can lead to serious complications, this information does not mean that people should avoid opioids or other prescribed medications. Rather, you should consult your medical provider before making any changes in your medications and to determine the proper course of treatment based on your diagnosis. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of misleading drug information or incorrectly prescribed medication, you should contact a Lopez McHugh pharmaceutical lawyer for a free consultation.