Opioids for chronic pain patients doubled worldwide over 25 years, study finds

The number of non-cancer patients with chronic pain prescribed an opioid doubled across the globe over 25 years, according to a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

Researchers examined 42 published studies from across eight countries that included 5.05 million people with chronic pain conditions, other than cancer. A majority of the studies were based in the U.S., and others were based in Australia, the United Kingdom, Norway, India, Spain, Denmark and Canada.

They found that from 1991-2015, prescribing of opioid medicines increased significantly. The studies conducted earlier in the time period show that opioids were prescribed to about 20 percent of patients experiencing chronic pain, but the later studies show those rates increase to more than 40 percent.

Analysis of the studies also show that the average age of those prescribed an opioid was 55.7 years. Also, 18.4 percent of opioids prescribed were classified as "strong," such as oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl, and 24.1 percent were combination products containing opioids, for example, oxycodone combined with paracetamol.

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