It seems like everywhere you turn nowadays, there's another scientific study expounding on the dangers of opioids. But what about the people who are in pain and are taking opioids daily to manage it - what is their perspective on utilizing opioids for pain? Specifically, how helpful do they find opioids in treating their pain – and what drawbacks are they seeing from prolonged use? A new study presented at the America Society of Anesthesiologists’ annual meeting sought the answers to these crucial questions.
The study, titled “Do Patients Perceive Opioid Treatment as an Effective Way to Mange Chronic Low Back Pain?,” was one of the research projects presented as part of the ANESTHESIOLOGY 2016 annual meeting.
The authors utilized data from a January 2016 survey of more 2,000 low back pain patients. They chose low back pain, in part, because these patients are more likely than patients with other types of pain to be treated with opioids. In fact, 46% of the survey respondents were currently utilizing opioids for pain.
The respondents were divided into three categories based on their opioid usage: those currently on opioids, those who were not currently on opioids but had been in the past year (28%) and those who had never been on opioid therapy (26%).
As part of the survey, patients were asked how successful they felt opioids were at relieving their pain levels. When taken together, only 13% of all respondents selected “very successful.” The most highly selected answer was “somewhat successful,” which was selected by 44% of people. Of the others, 31% said “moderately successful” and 12% said “not successful.” When the results were divided by opioid usage status, “somewhat successful” was still the most common answer for those currently on opioids, while those previously on opioids most commonly selected “not successful.”
The study also examined side effects and stigmas associated with opioid use. The researchers found that the vast majority – 75% – experienced side effects due to their opioid treatment. The most common of these side effects were constipation, sleepiness, cognitive issues and dependence.
On top of that, 41% of people reported feeling judged based on their usage of opioids. And, as it turns out, this feeling of being judged was unique to opioids; despite 68% of respondents also taking antidepressants, only 19% felt judged for using those.
Implications for the Future
These results put further emphasis on the dangers and inefficacy of long-term opioid treatment for chronic pain. Not only does their use create additional physical and social problems, but for most people they don’t even effectively address the pain.
Lead author Dr. Asokumar Buvanendra of Rush University in Chicago sees this as yet another reason pain patients should seek care from a multidisciplinary pain management specialist. Whether it’s interventional procedures, physical therapy, alternative medications or complementary therapies, pain management providers are able to offer and coordinate a variety of services that oftentimes not only work better than opioids, but also pose far fewer side effects.
“Patients are increasingly aware that opioids are problematic, but don’t know there are alternative treatment options,” said Dr. Buvanendra in a press release regarding the research. If you want to learn more about what treatment options are available for your condition, call (800) 775-PAIN to speak to a member of our care team staff.
 Buvanendran, Asokuma, Rae M. Gleason, Mario Moric, Sherry J. Robison, Jeffrey S. Kroin. “Do Patients Perceive Opioid Treatment as an Effective Way to Manage Chronic Low Back Pain? A Survey of Opioid Treatment Perception and Satisfaction.” ANESTHESIOOGY 2016 Annual Meeting (October 23, 2016). Accessed January 3, 2017, http://www.asaabstracts.com/strands/asaabstracts/abstract.htm;jsessionid=431585AA0967E7E27C850BD8C99D1E06?year=2016&index=3&absnum=4614
 AMERICAN SOCIETY OF ANESTHESIOLOGISTS, Many Back Pain Patients Get Limited Relief From Opioids And Worry About Taking Them. 2017. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.