Survey: Most Pain Patients Don't Abuse Painkillers

By Pat Anson, Editor

Only a small percentage of chronic pain patients misuse or abuse their opioid painkillers, according to a wide ranging survey by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids that also found a “disconnect” between patients and their doctors about opioid prescribing.

About one in ten pain patients (7% of chronic pain patients and 13% of acute pain patients) admitted misusing their opioid medications. Nearly half took longer to finish their prescriptions than directed – which was usually an effort to save the pain medication for another time.

More than one in ten (13% of chronic pain patients and 15% of acute pain patients) admitted using someone else's opiate prescription.

The online survey of 705 pain patients and 360 prescribing physicians was conducted by the research firm Whitman Insight Strategies (WINS) earlier this year.

About two-thirds of the opioid prescribers said they “always” warned their patients about the risk of addiction and dependency.

But when patients were asked who, if anyone, explained to them the potential for becoming dependent or addicted to painkillers, 19% of chronic pain patients and 40% of acute pain patients said "no one."

The survey also found that most patients pay little attention to the proper storage and disposal of pain medication. Only 11% of chronic pain patients and 13% of acute pain patients said they were concerned that someone else in their household might use their medications.

Less than half of chronic pain patients (42%) who have children said they store their medication somewhere their kids can’t reach. Most patients said their doctors never discussed the proper storage and disposal of painkillers.

"This research highlights key opportunities for prescribers of Rx opiates and their patients to have better communication around proper use and disposal of prescribed painkillers," said Marcia Lee Taylor, Interim President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

"The Centers for Disease Control has deemed abuse of prescription painkillers an 'epidemic,' and we can all do our part to help turn the tide on this critical health issue. Prescribers and patients can become more aware of the repercussions surrounding the improper storage and disposal of Rx pain medications and talk more at length in order to improve doctor-patient communication and help curb abuse."

The survey also found that many physicians are concerned about patients misusing their pain medication – by either taking too little or taking too much.

The majority of prescribers (77% of primary care physicians and 75% of pain management specialists) believe their patients do not always use their prescribed opiates in accordance with instructions. Twenty percent of the primary care physicians said they don’t feel comfortable prescribing opiates at all.

"This research suggests to us that prescribers need to feel more confident in assessing the potential risk of misuse or abuse of the Rx medicines, but unfortunately many of them feel they have not received proper training to assess those risks. There is a lot more we can do to help prescribers feel they have the proper tools they need to feel comfortable prescribing these medicines and taking action if a patient is abusing them," Taylor said.

The survey also found that most pain patients would prefer alternatives to opioids. About 9 in 10 chronic pain patients have tried an alternative treatment such as physical therapy and massage. Many were hindered in their use of alternative therapies by restrictions on insurance coverage.