Doctors specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain have a special charge: help those suffering from chronic pain conditions live normal, productive, and satisfying lives with as little pain as possible. So how are they doing?

In general, when it comes to prescribing opioids as pain treatment, business is booming. According to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, opioid use continues to increase in the United States.

From 2000 to 2010, opioid prescriptions rose from 11% to 19%, meaning that the rate of people receiving prescriptions for non-cancer pain nearly doubled in a decade.

This is a disturbing statistic, however, especially when you consider that roughly the same number of people visited the doctor for pain in 2000 as did in 2010 (164 million). Use of non-opioid pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen has stayed largely flat.  There have been no major inroads made in the identification and management of pain. These statistics indicate that doctors are prescribing opiates at twice the rate while not improving their diagnoses of chronic pain conditions.

Opioids are available for use in pills, liquids, lollipops, or as a shot or a patch. They are prescribed for people suffering from moderate or severe pain, and some conditions that opioids can be used for are joint pain, migraine pain, pain from an injury such as a car accident, or any other condition in which the pain is severe enough that over-the-counter or non-opioid prescription medicine would not be effective. Commonly prescribed opioids include Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Dilaudid.

This increase in prescribing opioids for pain treatment has concerned the Food and Drug Administration so much that in September of 2013 they announced new regulations in the labeling of opioids and also added new requirements for post-market studies of extended release and long-acting opioids. There is no guarantee that these changes will reduce opioid prescriptions, but hopefully they will result in a better educated public and doctors that will look more carefully at other options before reaching for their prescription pads.

Have you visited the doctor for a severe pain condition? What was the result of your visit?

Image by Chris Yarzab via Flickr

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