Addiction Still Common in Chronic Pain Patients

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Friday, July 22, 2011
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A new study by Geisinger Health System researchers has revealed a high prevalence of prescription pain medication addiction among chronic pain patients. In addition, researchers found that the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) new definition of addiction, which was expected to reduce the number of people considered addicts who take these medicines, actually resulted in the same percentage of individuals meeting the criteria of addiction.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, found that 35% of patients undergoing long-term pain therapy with opioids like morphine, OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin, meet the criteria for addiction.

“Most patients will not know if they carry the genetic risk factors for addiction,” said study lead Joseph Boscarino, PhD, MPH, in a statement. “Improper or illegal use of prescription pain medication can become a lifelong problem with serious repercussions for users and their families.”

Boscarino added that “genetic predisposition to addiction further exacerbates the risks associated with misuse of prescription pain medication.”
Using electronic records, a random sample of outpatients undergoing long-term opioid therapy for non-cancer pain was identified and 705 participants completed telephone interviews from August 2007 through November 2008.

When comparing the APA’s newly revised criteria for addiction with the old criteria, researchers were surprised to find the prevalence of and risk factors for addiction to be virtually the same. It was determined that different symptoms now qualify the same patients for inclusion who would have been excluded under the previous classification system.

The study states that pain medication addiction often happens in individuals aged 65 and younger, with a history of opioid abuse, withdrawal symptoms and substance abuse treatment. Risk factors for severe pain medication addiction also include a history of anti-social personality disorder.

“Ultimately, we hope our research will aid the development of newer classes of medications that don’t negatively impact the brain and therefore avoid addiction entirely,” Boscarino said.

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