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Opioid Prescribing for Non-Cancer Pain Almost Doubled Between 2000 and 2010: Study

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Opioid prescribing for non-cancer pain almost doubled between 2000 and 2010, while prescriptions for non-opioid pain relievers remained relatively stable during that period, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied federal government data on treatment of non-cancer pain from 2000 to 2010. Of the 164 million pain-related visits to doctors in 2010, about half of patients were treated with some type of pain reliever, according to HealthDay. They found while prescriptions of non-opioid painkillers remained relatively stable at between 26 percent and 29 percent, prescriptions for opioids nearly doubled, from 11 percent to 19 percent.

The researchers also analyzed visits for new musculoskeletal pain. They found a significant decrease in prescriptions of non-opioid pain relievers, from 38 percent in 2000, to 29 percent in 2010. They note there is a lack of evidence that opioids are more effective or safer than non-opioid treatment for this type of pain.

The findings are published in the journal Medical Care.

“We found that not only have the rates of treated pain not improved, but in many cases, use of safer alternatives to opioids, such as medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, have either stayed flat or declined,” researcher Dr. G. Caleb Alexander said in a news release. “This suggests that efforts to improve the identification and treatment of pain have backfired, due to an over-reliance on prescription opioids that have caused incredible morbidity and mortality among patients young and old alike.”

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