Millions of Americans with back pain take powerful and potentially addictive opioid painkillers. But in a new survey, many say the drugs provide only limited relief and they worry about taking them.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids — including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin — nearly quadrupled since 1999. And more than 165,000 people have died from prescription opioid overdoses.
The survey included more than 2,000 people with low back pain. Of the nearly half who were currently taking opioids, only 13 percent said the drugs were very successful at relieving their pain. Forty-four percent said the drugs were somewhat successful, 31 percent said they were moderately successful and 12 percent said they were unsuccessful.
Seventy-five percent said the drugs had side effects such as constipation (65 percent), sleepiness (37 percent), thinking and memory problems (32 percent) and drug dependence (29 percent).
“Patients are increasingly aware that opioids are problematic, but don’t know there are alternative treatment options,” says survey author Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran.
Stigma was another concern for these patients. Forty-one percent of those taking opioids said they felt judged for their use of the drugs. Even though 68 percent of the patients also took antidepressants, only 19 percent felt any stigma from using those medications.
“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,” Buvanendran said in an ASA news release.
He said that these other therapies include physical therapy, bracing, nerve blocks, nerve ablation techniques (where nerve cells are destroyed to ease pain) or implantable devices.
Anti-inflammatory medications and alternative therapies such as biofeedback and massage can also help, Buvanendran added.
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