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Patients Taking Opioids for Chronic Pain More Likely to Live in Disadvantaged Areas

February 12, 2021

A study that was presented this month at the Association of Academic Psychiatrists Annual Meeting suggests that patients being treated for pain with chronic opioid therapy are more likely to live in socially disadvantaged areas and self-report feelings of anxiety, depression and pain more frequently.

National pain management guidelines on treating chronic pain in recent years have shifted to alternative forms of treatment in lieu of opioids, as dangers of opioids have become more apparent. However, those alternative therapies, such as physical therapy, injections and pain psychology counseling, are cost-prohibitive for patients with limited funds and insufficient insurance.

The study presented at the AAP meeting was based on analysis of medical record data collected at an academic medical center from 2000-19. Adult patients being treated for chronic musculoskeletal pain were divided into two categories: chronic adherent opioid therapy and no such opioid therapy. Of the 1,173 patients studied, 365 were on chronic opioids. Those patients were found to be more likely to live in zip codes that were within the most social disadvantaged quartile of the nation in the Area Deprivation Index.

“We hope our study findings support advocacy efforts to improve accessibility of non-opioid pain management options for socioeconomically disadvantaged patients,” Abby L. Cheng, MD, co-director of physiatry resident musculoskeletal research at Washington University (St. Louis) School of Medicine, said in a news release presenting the findings. “We support improved insurance coverage of multidisciplinary, research-based pain management treatments that are proven to help reduce pain and improve function without the use of opioid medication.”

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