Opioid Abuse Problems Appear To Be Leveling Off, Study Finds

As efforts to combat the opioid abuse problems in the U.S. continue, new research suggests that the number of Americans who misuse the powerful pain medications may no longer be increasing.

At the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in Boston, researchers indicate that while there is no evidence that abuse is declining for painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin or morphine, the rates of opioid abuse appear to be leveling off, with no increases seen in recent years.

Researchers tracked the abuse problems with opioid medications as part of a government study conducted between 2000 and 2014, focusing on abuse among adults and teens. The findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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Other research has indicated the opioid overdose epidemic remains at an all-time high, largely driven by fentanyl overdoses. However, overdoses among U.S. teens have doubled over the last two decades.

According to the new study, from 2000 to 2002 the number of people who abused prescription opioid painkillers rose from 9% to 13%. By 2014, the rate of abuse remained steady at 13.6%, indicating no additional increases.

Researchers said after large jumps in the early years of the study, the use of narcotic painkillers plateaued overall.

The study findings may point to the importance of multimodal therapies, or using more than one method to treat pain, which has been promoted in recent years as a means of combating the opioid abuse epidemic. Research has found that multimodal therapies are used successfully, especially following hip and knee replacement surgery after doctors began offering fewer prescriptions for only opioids, instead supplementing opioids with other pain relief.

The CDC recommends the first-line treatment for chronic pain should be non-opioid medications and non-drug options, such as physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Researchers highlight, for long-term pain, opioids are no better at managing pain than placebos. More so, people who take opioids run the risk of overdose and addiction. This is especially a concern as a recent study indicated opioid abuse and overdose problems are widely underreported in the U.S.

In recent years, certain practices have helped to combat the widespread opioid abuse problems. One study indicated ER doctors often prescribed opioids in lower doses for shorter durations than primary care doctors. Practices such as this, and doctor monitoring, have resulted in fewer opioids being prescribed for the first time in two decades.


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