Back Pain Sufferers with Psych Disorders Get Less Relief, More Likely To Abuse Meds

By Paul Gaita 12/01/15

Chronic pain, depression, and painkillers make for a deadly combination.

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Researchers have found a possible link between chronic back pain and opioid abuse in a study that suggests individuals treating such injuries are not only less likely to gain relief from opioid painkillers, but also more likely to abuse their medication if they also suffer from psychiatric disorders like depression or anxiety.

The study, published in Anesthesiology, the medical journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, was conducted by professors at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who examined 55 patients with both chronic lower back pain and varying levels of depression or anxiety. According to study author Ajay Wasan, M.D., “High levels of depression and anxiety are common in patients with chronic lower back pain.”

The research group was then given one of three treatments: morphine, oxycodone or a placebo, to be taken orally as needed over a six-month period, during which participants logged their pain levels and dosages on a daily basis. The study’s results found that those patients with high levels of depression or anxiety experienced 50% less relief from back pain and 75% more opioid abuse, as well as more side effects than participants with low levels of depression or anxiety.

“It’s important for physicians to identify psychiatric disorders prior to deciding whether to prescribe opioids for chronic back pain, as well as treat these conditions as part of a mulitmodal treatment plan,” said Wasan.

The study’s authors concluded that psychiatric issues in back pain patients be treated early and before the pain becomes a chronic issue, which may provide greater pain relief and reduce the chance of opioid abuse. Recent studies have indicated that 31 million Americans are currently experiencing some form of lower back pain at any given time.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.