Social Media Lowers Depression Risk for Pain Patients

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Seniors citizens who have chronic pain are significantly less likely to suffer from depression if they participate in an online social network, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Michigan reviewed the results of a 2011 survey of more than 3,400 Medicare patients aged 65 and older, in which respondents were asked about their depression, pain and social participation. About 17% of the seniors used an online social network in the previous month.


Researchers found that seniors who had chronic pain were often depressed, socially isolated and less likely to participate in activities that require face-to-face interaction.

However, online social participation appeared to buffer the impact of pain on depression. Seniors in pain who did not use an online social network were twice as likely to become depressed.

“The results suggest that for those in pain, it may be possible that online social participation can compensate for reduced offline social participation, especially where it pertains to the maintenance of mental health and well-being. This is critical because the onset of pain can often lead to a ‘downward spiral’ of social isolation and depression, resulting in adverse outcomes for the health of older adults,” wrote lead author Shannon Ang, a doctoral candidate at the U-M Department of Sociology and Institute for Social Research.

“Online social participation serves as a way to possibly arrest the development of pain toward depression through this pathway, by ensuring that older adults remain socially connected despite the presence of pain.”

Social media may also preserve cognitive function and psychological well-being in the elderly, researchers said. The findings are significant in an aging society where social isolation and loneliness are key determinants of well-being.

"Our results may be possibly extended to other forms of conditions (e.g., chronic illnesses, functional limitations) that, like pain, also restrict physical activity outside of the home," Ang said.

The survey data did not identify what types of social media – such as Facebook or Twitter – were more effective in warding off depression and social isolation.

The study was published in the Journals of Gerontology.

Medical Cannabis to Be Studied in Nursing Homes

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Plans have been announced in Canada for a research study on the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating pain and improving cognitive function in seniors. The 6-month pilot program will be one of the largest of its kind, enrolling up to 500 nursing home residents.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) is partnering with Canopy Growth Corporation, which makes a variety of cannabis products through its Spectrum Cannabis brand. The pilot study will focus on evaluating the impact of medical cannabis on residents’ health and quality of life, as well as caregiver stress and the economic benefits of cannabis use in nursing homes.


"Medical cannabis is currently prescribed for residents as appropriate, but it's still an emerging area," says Candace Chartier, CEO of OLTCA, which represents over half of Ontario's 630 long-term care homes.

"Through this partnership and pilot study, we hope to provide more clarity to long-term care clinicians and frontline staff about the use of medical cannabis for residents."

Can cannabis improve cognitive function? The popular image of clueless stoners breezing through life like Jeff Bridges as the Dude in “The Big Lebowski” may not be entirely accurate.

A small 2016 study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University found that cognitive function improved in 24 adults who smoked marijuana for three months. Participants also reported better sleep, less depression and a significant decrease in their use of medications such as opioids — all qualities that would be welcomed in nursing homes.

"There is clearly an interest in the long-term care space to explore medical cannabis as an alternative to traditional medications for pain and degenerative cognitive function," said Mark Zekulin, President & Co-CEO of Canopy Growth. "The pilot study we've announced… is the first step in developing an evidence-based, best practice approach to medical cannabis that will result in consistent care for thousands of seniors and ultimately improve quality of life and outcomes in long-term care homes."

A recent survey in Israel of over 2,700 elderly patients found that medical cannabis significantly reduced their chronic pain.  About a third of the patients used CBD oil, about 24 percent smoked marijuana, and about six percent used a vaporizer.

Over half of the seniors who originally reported "bad" or "very bad" quality of life said their lives improved to "good" or "very good."

"We found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported," said Victor Novack, MD, a professor of medicine at Ben-Gurion University and head of the Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute.

A recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that most older Americans think marijuana is effective for pain relief, anxiety and nausea.

Rescheduling Hydrocodone May Have Increased Abuse

By Pat Anson, Editor

Four years ago that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ordered the rescheduling of hydrocodone from a Schedule III controlled substance to the more restrictive category of Schedule II.  The move was intended to reduce the diversion and abuse of hydrocodone, which at one time was the most widely prescribed drug in the United States.

It turns out the rescheduling may have had the unintended effect of increasing the diversion and abuse of opioid medication by elderly Americans.

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), hydrocodone prescriptions for Medicare beneficiaries declined after the rescheduling, but opioid-related hospitalization of elderly patients increased for those who did not have a prescription for opioids.


"The 2014 federal hydrocodone rescheduling policy was associated with decreased opiate use among the elderly," said lead author Yong-Fang Kuo, PhD, a professor of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at UTMB.

"However, we also observed a 24 percent increase in opioid-related hospitalizations in Medicare patients without documented opioid prescriptions, which may represent an increase in illegal use."

Kuo and her colleagues say Medicare beneficiaries are among the largest consumers of prescription opioids. They speculated that opioid abuse by the elderly may be a coping mechanism to deal with poor health and depression, and that opioid diversion may be a sign of drug dealing.

“An economic purpose may relate to monetary gains from the diversion and sale to others,” Kuo wrote. “It is important for prescribers to understand that their elderly Medicare beneficiaries might be obtaining opioids from sources that are not documented in their medical records. There is a need for additional research on why, where, and how these Medicare enrollees are obtaining opioids.”

The UTMB research team analyzed a large sample of Medicare Part D enrollment and claims data from 2012 through 2015. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The reclassification of hydrocodone to a Schedule II controlled substance limited patients to an initial 90-day supply and required them to see a doctor for a new prescription each time they need a 30-day refill. Prescriptions for Schedule II drugs also cannot be phoned or faxed in by physicians.

In 2012, over 135 million prescriptions were written in the U.S. for hydrocodone products such as Vicodin, Lortab and Norco.  That fell to 90 million prescriptions by 2016.

Overall Opioid Prescribing Down

Hydrocodone isn't the only opioid medication to see steep declines in prescribing. The volume of opioid prescriptions filled last year dropped by 12 percent, the largest decline in 25 years according to a new report by the IQVIA Institute.  Opioid prescriptions have been falling since 2011, while dispensing of addiction treatment drugs like buprenorphine (Suboxone) and methadone have risen sharply.

“The U.S. opioid epidemic is one of the most challenging public health crises we face as a nation," said Murray Aitken, IQVIA senior vice president and executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science.

“Our research and analytics revealed that 2017 saw new therapy starts for prescription opioids in pain management decline nearly 8 percent, with a near doubling of medication-assisted therapies (MATs) for opioid use dependence to 82,000 prescriptions per month. This suggests that healthcare professionals are prescribing opioids less often for pain treatment, but they are actively prescribing MATs to address opioid addiction."

All 50 states and Washington DC had declines in opioid prescribing of 5 percent or more in 2017, with some of the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis -- like West Virginia and Pennsylvania --  showing declines of over 10 percent. Nevertheless, the number of Americans overdosing continues to rise due to increased use of black market drugs like illicit fentanyl, heroin and cocaine, which now account for about two-thirds of all drug deaths.

Power of Pain: Growing Older with Chronic Pain

Barby Ingle, Columnist

I am another year older. At 43, I should be in my prime, but I live with chronic pain. Chances are I passed my peak health on the proverbial mountain and am headed back down when it comes to my health.

My friends are getting older as well. I hear more complaints about painful knees and hips, backs, and breathing difficulties. Those are common symptoms among older adults, with about 30% of adults 65 and older reporting knee pain or stiffness and 15% reporting hip pain or stiffness.

There has to be a way to lessen the blow of growing old, even for those of us with chronic pain. Although they are not taught well in society, there are actually life choices we can make that will lessen the pain and limitations.

Where should we start? Exercise is a good place, but don’t overdo it. Good eating habits are essential, but remember to splurge a couple of times a month. Increase your water consumption too, unless advised by a healthcare provider to limit fluids. Another challenge for me and probably you is getting enough sleep.

There has to be a way to lessen the blow of growing old, even for those of us with chronic pain. Although they are not taught well in society, there are actually life choices we can make that will lessen the pain and limitations.

Where should we start? Exercise is a good place, but don’t overdo it. Good eating habits are essential, but remember to splurge a couple of times a month. Increase your water consumption too, unless advised by a healthcare provider to limit fluids. Another challenge for me and probably you is getting enough sleep.

Posture is another area. When we are young we see the elderly hunched over. When we are in pain we tend to do the same tuck and comfort position. If you pay attention to your posture, it will be a great benefit to staying upright and breathing deeper, providing more oxygen and helping maintain a healthy body weight.

Living with all of this in mind is difficult, but important. The goal should not only be to live a long, happy and productive life, but do it well. Moments of prevention, especially in our youth and young adulthood, can add up to additional life experiences that you would have missed. Work on your strength (physical and mental), moderate your lifestyle, and practice balance, endurance and flexibility skills.  

I have to remind myself to take a break. Even if I can’t sleep, I go into a quiet dark area and let my brain have a break from all of the stimuli in our environment. Living with pain is a pain in itself, but luckily for us there are safe and effective ways to manage it. It is important to learn what is available and what we need to make available for better daily living.

Aches and pains are NOT a normal part of aging. If we learn how to recognize our bad behaviors and practice better ones, we can overcome many of the battles of growing older with chronic pain. Learn how to recognize, understand and properly treat your pain.

This takes a little work to get started, but once it becomes habit, it gets easier and easier. Be sure to use the resources available to you: providers (develop a team), pharmacists, caregivers, positive people, local churches and community centers. One of the things we did for my mother before she passed was get local high school kids to come in and check on her, and help her with tasks that needed done around her house. Many high schools now have mandatory volunteer hours for graduation. Check your local resources, support groups, and community groups for tools you can use to better your life.

When pain lasts for more than a few months it usually has an underlying disease that is the cause. For the elderly, two widespread causes are diabetes and arthritis. Both can be warded off with proper care throughout the life cycle. If you find yourself already in pain while reading this, it’s never too late to start. It is important to pay attention and admit that you are feeling bad. The sooner you take care of yourself the better your outcomes will be over time.

Working on the core lifestyle actions; posture, nutrition, good behaviors (limited or no smoking/drinking), and exercise will go a long way when it comes to prevention and maintenance of your body.

Also take into consideration what treatments you are willing to participate in. Doing noninvasive treatments first, unless in an acute health situation, is important. The less stress and trauma you bring to yourself the better off you will be. Some noninvasive options would be warm baths, relaxation, moderate physical activity, or non-prescription pain relievers.

Always let your providers know if you have a change in the pain’s location, intensity, and sensation. Be sure to rule out any other underlying causes. Providers may also try medications, herbal or supplemental products, medicated lotions, acupuncture/pressure, chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nerve blocks, radio frequency ablations, and other surgical procedures. As a pain patient I have learned that we are all different, what works for me doesn’t always work for my best friend, or even family members who suffer with chronic pain.

I will leave you with some important pain facts for the elderly. If a person has pain, even at the end of life, there are ways to help. It’s best to focus on making the person comfortable, without worrying about possible addiction or drug dependence.

Many older people have been told not to talk about their aches and pains because it is a part of getting older. But it is not a given that since we are getting old we will have pain.  Don’t put off going to see a doctor because you think the pain is just part of life. Early and proper care is best when working to address the pain and its cause.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the Power of Pain Foundation and the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

High Use of Opioids by Older Adults with COPD

By Pat Anson, Editor

Canadian researchers have found significantly high rates of opioid use among older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a large study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Over half of the patients received a new opioid prescription after their COPD diagnosis.

"The new use of opioids was remarkably high among adults with COPD living in the community," said Nicholas Vozoris, MD, a respirologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. "The amount of opioid use is concerning given this is an older population, and older adults are more sensitive to narcotic side effects."

The study is based on records for more than 120,000 adults in Ontario age 66 and older with COPD, a progressive lung disease that makes it harder to breathe. COPD causes coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and other symptoms. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Between 2003 and 2012, 70 per cent of the COPD patients who lived in their own home were given a new opioid prescription, while about 55% of those living in long-term care facilities received a new opioid prescription. Many were given multiple opioid prescriptions, early refills, and prescriptions that lasted more than 30 days.

Opioids might be prescribed more frequently among older adults with COPD to treat chronic muscle pain, breathlessness and insomnia.

"Sometimes patients are looking for what they think are quick fixes to chronic pain and chronic breathing problems," said Vozoris. "And physicians sometimes believe that narcotics may be a quick fix to COPD symptoms."

Common side effects of opioids in older adults include falls and fractures, confusion, memory impairment, fatigue, constipation, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Vozoris says opioids may also negatively affect lung health by reducing breathing rates and volume, which can result in decreased blood oxygen levels and higher carbon dioxide levels.

"This is a population that has chronic lung disease, and this drug class may also adversely affect breathing and lung health in people who already have chronically compromised lungs," he said.

Most of the opioid prescriptions were written by family physicians, usually for pain medications that combine an opioid with acetaminophen.

"Patients and prescribers should reflect on the way narcotics are being used in this older and respiratory-vulnerable population," said Dr. Vozoris. "They should be more careful about when narcotics are used and how they're being used."

A study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging warned about the risk of “polypharmacy” in older adults, who often take multiple medications written by different providers.

“The elderly population is especially challenging when one has to consider all of the pharmacodynamic changes that occur with normal aging. The side effect profile of opiates is similar for all age groups; however the elderly population is at a greater risk for these side effects given their comorbidities and high incidence of polypharmacy. Using opiates appropriately and at the most efficacious dosage for the severity and type of pain becomes crucial in the elderly,” the study said.