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Taking opioids for back pain could lead to a variety of health issues

March 18, 2013 in Back Pain

Doctors may choose to prescribe opioids in order to treat individuals with chronic lower back pain as well as numerous other pain conditions. While most patients prescribed these medications are given low or moderate doses, a large portion of individuals receive significantly high levels of opioids to reduce their pain. Despite the apparent effectiveness of these treatments, a recent study illustrates that the negative consequences may outweigh the benefits for patients with chronic back pain.

According to a report published by investigators from Oregon Health and Sciences University, sizeable doses of opioids are linked to higher instances of mental health issues, which may lead to co-prescriptions for sedatives and the need for further healthcare services. The report is titled "Correlates of Higher-Dose Opioid Medication use for Lower Back Pain in Primary Care" and published in The Journal of Pain, the peer-review publication of the American Pain Society.

Opioid study findings
The researchers concluded that patients living with both chronic pain and comorbid psychiatric diagnoses have a much higher chance of being prescribed opioids by doctors than those without any mental health issues. Furthermore, the longer patients continue to take opioids for their pain symptoms, the more likely they are to have some form of psychiatric disorder.

This is not necessarily to say that opioids are directly responsible for greater mental health diagnoses for back pain patients. The study notes that past research has linked depression and frequent pain as co-contributing factors. As a result, people who are depressed may be more likely to have chronic pain while people with chronic pain have a greater chance of becoming depressed.

Past research into opioids for back pain
A 2007 study conducted by investigators at the Yale University School of Medicine looked into the effects of opioids on treating chronic back pain. Beyond immediate symptom relief, the researchers also considered the link between these prescriptions and addiction.

The Yale experts looked at a variety of articles that employed oral, topical and transdermal opioids for back pain. They found that opioid prescriptions tended to differentiate by setting, with a range of 3 percent to 66 percent likelihood. Effectiveness of these drugs in relieving pain was considered to be nonsignificant among patients. Additionally, the analysis showed substance abuse was common among those prescribed opioids. While patients tended to experience short-term pain reduction, long-term effects were not clear.

Because of these findings, people living with chronic back pain are choosing other non-drug options to relieve their pain.  Options include massage, physiotherapy, chiropractic and home based theraputic OTC products such as T.E.N.S therapy and spinal traction and support belts.

The next time you or someone you know has back pain, consider the many alternatives that are effective, affordable and most importantly, safe.

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