BACKGROUND: Reports of chronic pain and associated opioid use, abuse, and fatalities continue to increase at an alarming rate, not only in the United States but also across the globe. In light of the many resultant fatalities, multiple authors and authorities have cautioned against the excessive use of opioids. Consequently, the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration, and multiple state authorities have been proposing and implementing a plethora of regulations to curb opioid overuse and abuse. In the majority of cases, pain physicians have been portrayed as the perpetrators responsible for escalating use and abuse and resultant fatalities.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the patterns of psychotherapeutic drug use and illicit drug use at the time of initial evaluation.
STUDY DESIGN: A prospective evaluation.
SETTING: A private, specialty referral interventional pain management clinic in the United States.
METHODS: Participants were all new patients presenting to interventional pain management evaluated by one physician. Inclusion criteria was patients over 18 years of age with chronic spinal pain of at least one year duration.
RESULTS: The results of this evaluation indicate that 94% of patients were on long-term opioids prior
to presenting to interventional pain management. Illicit drug use is also common, although it has declined significantly. While a large proportion of individuals (45.7%) have used illicit drugs at some point in the past, current illicit drug use is present in only 7.9% of patients, both past and current use are similar to that of the general population. More importantly, a significant proportion of patients have been on opioids (high doses of more than 40 mg equivalents of morphine 48.8%) on a long-term basis, initiated and maintained by primary care physicians, prior to presenting to interventional pain management. Further, 35% were on benzodiazepines, and 9.2% on carisoprodol prior to presenting to interventional pain management.
LIMITATIONS: The limitations of this evaluation include that it is a prospective, single center evaluation by one physician that is partially dependent on subjective recall of the patient.
CONCLUSION: This study shows an overwhelming majority of patients were initiated and maintained with opioids in managing chronic noncancer pain. They were frequently on high doses over a long period of time with multiple drug combinations prescribed by primary care physicians.