A Third of Pain Patients Have Stopped Using Rx Opioids

By Pat Anson, Editor

Over a third of pain patients (34%) have stopped taking opioid medications because their doctor is no longer willing to prescribe them, according to a large new survey of American adults living with chronic pain.

Eight out of ten patients (84%) say there is an unfair stigma associated with chronic pain, and half said they have lied about or hidden their use of opioid painkillers from others.

“The rise of the opioid epidemic has had a significant impact on those living with chronic pain, and oftentimes the voice of this population has gotten lost. We wanted to shine some light on the experiences of chronic pain sufferers with this research,” said Shai Gozani, PhD, president and CEO of NeuroMetrix, which commissioned the survey.

NeuroMetrix is the creator of Quell, a wearable medical device that uses neurostimulation to relieve chronic pain. The company hired the market research firm of Vanson Bourne to interview 1,500 Americans aged 25 and older, who were suffering from chronic pain for at least three months. An equal number of men and women participated.

The interviews were conducted online in early 2018 -- two years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines that discourage the prescribing of opioids for chronic pain. Although voluntary and only intended for primary care physicians, the guidelines have been widely adopted by insurers, regulators and providers throughout  the U.S. healthcare system.

The survey found that most pain patients are cautious about their use of opioids. Sixty-one percent are worried about addiction, a little over half (51%) said they only take opioids when necessary, and 42% don't like their side effects.

The stigma associated with opioids impacts how some patients communicate with their doctors. One out of five (20%) downplay the level of their pain and 13% said they are more cautious when speaking with their doctor. Only 9% of patients said they emphasize their pain level.

Most patients want to try pain therapies besides opioids. Nine out of ten said they are actively looking for new treatment options and most had tried at least one alternative, non-pharmacological therapy.  

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Most Widely Used Alternative Therapies

  • 65% Physical therapy
  • 65% Lotions, rubs and patches
  • 44% Over-the-counter TENS
  • 33% Doctor prescribed TENS
  • 28% Yoga, pilates, meditation
  • 21% Acupuncture
  • 16% Medical marijuana
  • 16% Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • 15% Surgery, implantable devices

The two most common reasons for pain patients to seek alternative treatments is because they don't like the side effects of prescription drugs (43%) and they prefer to treat pain without medication (39%). A majority (59%) don't believe their doctor is completely informed of treatment options outside of prescription drugs.

“These results underscore the need for more research and treatment modalities to support those living with chronic pain, as well as a joint effort among care providers, innovators, government stakeholders and patients to expand the goals of pain treatment," said Gozani.

"If we shift focus to making the end goal of pain treatment about decreasing suffering and disability rather than exclusively pain intensity, we may open ourselves to new possibilities and treatments that will empower those with chronic pain to find relief and gain greater control over their lives.”

You can read the full report, “Flipping the Script: Living with Chronic Pain amid the Opioid Crisis” by clicking here.