Recent changes in prescription regulations for certain opioid pain-killer medications have sparked debate. Over the past year, the topic of opioid dependence, abuse, and overdose has become fairly popular.
Medical professionals, and now the general public, have begun taking note of the increasing rate of opioid prescriptions, rising rates of opioid-related deaths, and higher rates of heroin addiction believed to be associated with initial medication addiction.
But some fear that tighter restrictions on these drugs will unfairly and negatively impact patients with chronic pain who legitimately take the medications to improve their quality of life. This raises the question: Just how common are opioid use disorder treatments?
Studies yield a range of results concerning the percentage of patients using opioids that develop a dependency or abuse medications. In one large study from 2011, entitled "Prevalence of Prescription Opioid-Use Disorder Among Chronic Pain Patients," researchers assessed 705 patients taking opioids for non-cancer pain long-term. They found that 21.7% met the criteria for moderate drug-use disorder and 13.2% met the criteria for the severe disorder.
Taking those numbers together, that's about one-third of patients involved in the study. A more recent and smaller study into 35 back pain patients, entitled "Pharmacological and toxicological profile of opioid-treated, chronic low back pain patients entering a mindfulness intervention randomized controlled trial," found that 16 drug-tested positives for illicit or unprescribed drugs.
Based on these (and other) studies, it would seem that the rate of problematic use and dependence among chronic pain patients is certainly notable.