Patients With Chronic Back Pain More Likely To Turn To Hard Drugs

Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi


chronic back pain at work

New research suggests that we may be able to cut down on illicit drug use if we improve techniques to control and treatment chronic low back pain.

According to research out of the University of Minnesota, patients with chronic low back pain are more likely to use illegal drugs and have a history of illicit drug use. For their research, Dr. Anna Shmagel of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and colleagues surveyed 5,000 adults about their health and drug use. 13 percent of respondents met the study definition of chronic low back pain (cLBP), which in this case was defined as having back pain for three months or longer. The confidential survey also collected information about a person’s drug history and if they currently used illicit drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine).

Chronic Back Pain and Drug Abuse

After examining the data, researchers uncovered:

  • 49 percent of adults with chronic low back pain stated that they had tried illicit drugs in their lifetime, compared to 43 percent for those without cLBP.
  • 14 percent with cLBP stated that they had tried illicit drugs within the last 30 days, compared to 9 percent for those without low back pain.
  • All four drugs were more commonly used by those with chronic low back pain (46.5 percent vs. 42 percent for marijuana, 22 percent vs. 14 percent for cocaine, 9 percent vs. 5 percent for meth, and 5 percent vs. 2 percent for heroin).
  • Participants with chronic low back pain are more than twice as likely to report meth and heroin use, when adjusted for other factors.
  • Individuals who had ever used illicit drugs were more likely to have an active opioid prescription (22.5 percent vs. 15 percent).

The last statistic may be the most important, because previous studies have found that people with a history of illicit drug use are more likely to misuse prescription opioids. Dr. Shmagel and colleagues concluded that drug assessments could aid spine specialists and chronic pain doctors in helping ensure their patients don’t end up abusing their pain medications.

“As we face a prescription opioid addiction epidemic, careful assessment of illicit drug use history may aid prescribing decisions,” researchers wrote.

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