A new study has found that between 20 and 30 percent of drugs prescribed to treat chronic pain are misused.
The result is alarming, given that the country is in the grips of a prescription drug epidemic that oftentime leads to heroin addiction for people who fall into its grasp.
“On average, misuse was documented in approximately one out of four or five patients and addiction in approximately one out of ten or eleven patients,” who were prescribed opioids as part of their treatment for chronic pain,” writes Kevin E. Vowles, PhD, of University of New Mexico (UNM), Albuquerque, in the study, which was published in the most recent edition of Pain, the official journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.
The same study found that about 10 percent of people prescriped opiates end up addicted to the drugs.
Dr. Vowles and colleagues draw special attention to the high rate of opioid misuse. They write, “If it is accurate that approximately one in four patients on opioids display patterns of opioid misuse, but not addiction, then perhaps more efficient targeting of treatment resources would be of benefit.” For example, even low-intensity interventions, such as patient education and monitoring, might be a viable alternative to simply not prescribing the medications for those at risk of misuse.
Overall, the study concluded that the harm that comes from these drugs may not be worth the risk to the people that are prescibed to.
“We are not certain that the benefits derived from opioids, which are rather unclear…compensate for this additional burden to patients and health-care systems,” the authors wrote.