Chronic Pain Conditions And Overdose Deaths: 61% Of Victims Took Opioids For Pain

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Chronic Pain Conditions And Overdose Deaths: 61% Of Victims Took Opioids For Pain

New research from Columbia University found that over 60% of fatal opioid overdose victims were engaging in prescription drug use spawned chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia.

The study, which is the largest ever on opioid overdose fatalities, examined the prescriptions of more than 13,000 overdose victims 64 years of age or younger who were enrolled in Medicaid. It was also found that a significant percentage of victims experienced anxiety and depression.

About one-third of victims had been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition within a year before their death. Tellingly, however, less than 1 in 20 of the deceased had been diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

Mark Olfson, MD, and lead author, as reported by ScienceDaily:

“The frequent occurrence of treated chronic pain and mental health conditions among overdose decedents underscores the importance of offering substance use treatment services in clinics that treat patients with chronic pain and mental health problems.”

Also, the 12 months before their death, over half had received a prescription for opioids or benzodiazepines (for anxiety), and many had filled scripts for both types of medication.

Dr. Olfson:

“This medication combination is known to increase the risk of respiratory depression, which is the unusually slow and shallow breathing that is the primary cause of death in most fatal opioid overdoses.”

The authors concluded:

“Persons dying of opioid-related causes, particularly those who were diagnosed with chronic pain conditions, commonly received services related to drug use disorders and mental disorders in the last year of life, though opioid use disorder diagnoses near the time of death were rare.”

The study, “Service Use Preceding Opioid-Related Fatality,” was published November 28th online in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology


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