New research presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY 2016 annual meeting suggests that the millions of people who take opioids for chronic back pain get moderate pain relief and they worry about the stigma associated with taking them.
“Patients are increasingly aware that opioids are problematic, but don’t know there are alternative treatment options,” said Asokumar Buvanendran, M.D., lead author of the study, director of orthopedic anesthesia and vice chair for research at Rush University, Chicago.
“While some patients may benefit from opioids for severe pain for a few days after an injury, physicians need to wean their patients off them and use multi-modal therapies instead,” he added.
The study looked at 2,030 people with low back pain who completed a survey about their treatment. Nearly half of the people who completed the survey (941) were taking opioids at the time. They were asked about how successful the opioids were in relieving their pain and only 13% said “very successful.” Many (44%) said opioids were “somewhat successful” and 31% said “moderately successful.” The remaining 12% said opioids were “not successful” in managing their low back pain.
In addition, 75% said they experienced side effects, such as constipation (65%), sleepiness (37%), cognitive issues (32%) and dependence (29%).
The use of opioids also carried social stigma with 41% saying they felt judged because they use opioids. Interestingly, even though 68% of respondents were also being treated with antidepressants, only 19% of them felt a stigma from using those medications.
The researchers also note a “lack of solid studies on the effectiveness of opioids in treating back pain beyond 12 weeks.”
“Patients with chronic low back pain, persistent pain lasting more than three months, should see a pain medicine specialist who uses an approach that combines a variety of treatments that may be more beneficial,” said Dr. Buvanendran.
“These treatments include physical therapy, bracing, interventional procedures such as nerve blocks, nerve ablation techniques or implantable devices, other medications such as anti-inflammatories and alternative therapies such as biofeedback and massage,” he added.