4 things to know about the rising rates of chronic pain in the US

As government and healthcare officials work to curb the use of highly addictive opioid prescription painkillers, a research paper published February in the journal PAIN suggests the number of Americans dealing with chronic pain is rising.

For the study, Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Buffalo (N.Y.), analyzed 12 years of data on more than 19,000 subjects ages 51 and older collected in the biennial Health and Retirement Study from 1998 to 2010. Dr. Grol-Prokopczyck found the number of Americans in their 60s reporting chronic pain increased from 10 percent in 1998 to 37 percent in 2010.

Dr. Grol-Prokopczyk recently discussed her findings and their possible implications with Vox.

Here are four key takeaways.

1. Surprising findings: "Pain levels are going up each year, meaning that even for the same age group, people on average experienced more pain in 2010 than they did in 1998," Dr. Grol-Prokopczyk told Vox. "I knew that prescriptions for opioid analgesics had gone up dramatically during this same time period [1998 to 2010], so I assumed that more prescriptions for [them] would lead to less pain, not more pain. So to discover pain levels were going up even during a period of increased opioid prescriptions was very surprising to me."

2. Educational disparities: People with the lowest levels of education were 80 percent more likely to experience chronic pain than people with the highest, according to the study, When evaluated exclusively for severe pain, respondents who didn't finish high school were 370 percent more likely to experience severe chronic pain than individuals with graduate degrees.

3. Racial disparities: "[O]nce you control for socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic minorities actually seem to fare better than whites when it comes to pain. This is one of those rare health problems where you see that pattern," said Dr. Grol-Prokopczyk in the interview. "But when I looked at the different severity of pain reported, I saw it's a somewhat more complicated picture. African Americans don't report more pain than whites, but they do report more severe pain."

4. Treating pain amid the opioid epidemic: "If we're going to cut down dramatically on opioid prescriptions, which we're already doing, we cannot forget people who are really suffering from chronic pain — which is a sizable minority of the U.S. population," said Dr. Grol-Prokopczyk. "Let's recognize that we need to invest in either figuring out how to prevent chronic pain or treat[ing] it in a way that doesn't have all the deleterious effects of opioids. Unfortunately, I don't have a great answer for what the alternative is, but I want to make sure that we don't just think, 'Okay, let's limit opioid prescriptions, and we're all done.' Because the problem of chronic pain is going to remain."

More articles on opioids: 
Cedars-Sinai to study how education materials, electronic prompts can moderate opioid use 
23 lawmakers call on Trump to add $9.3B to 2018 budget to combat opioid epidemic 
Dartmouth-Hitchcock achieves 53% reduction in opioid prescriptions for outpatient procedures

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars