In a fascinating and counterintuitive new addiction study it appears that patients suffering from severe pain and trauma are less likely to abuse opiate and opioids prescription medication. Public health experts now believe the drug epidemic which has exploded the last decade and a half is perhaps more subtle and nuanced than one might initially suspect due to most mainstream press coverage.
The Sobering Stats
In research findings presented at the 2016 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons in Washington DC, a panel of medical experts out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston delivered compelling evidence that flies directly in the face of modern research studies, which portray opioid prescription pain medications as extremely prone to abuse and misuse across the board. The new data suggests that this is not exactly the case and that opioids are used properly by patients who legitimately need them for severe trauma and pain. The statistics paint a decidedly sober picture with 3 out 4 patients discontinuing their prescribed course of painkiller treatment after only one month discharge from hospital stay. Extrapolating these findings over a longer period of time researchers found that a year later only 1% of these trauma patients were still actively managing their pain with some type of opioid substance. The most commonly abused opiates and opioids being hydrocodone, fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone.
This new discovery is in direct opposition to what we as a society are being routinely exposed to on mainstream media outlets, namely, how the opioid epidemic is ravaging the nation’s moral fabric and systematically poisoning our children. No one is exempt from its wrath, even celebrity pop stars like Prince – who passed away earlier this year from an overdose of the potent opioid analogue fentanyl. The truth is something more complicated and less noticeable as the establishment would have you believe.
Dr. Andrew Schoenfeld is the orthopaedic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School as well as senior investigator/lead researcher of the study. He expressed confoundment at the figures reflected in the data. “We were really surprised by how low the numbers were for long-term opiate use. It appears that traumatic injury is not a main driver for continued opiate use in patients who were not taking opioids prior to their injuries,” Schoenfeld went on record as saying.
The sample data consisted of trauma cases in a military database consisting of approximately 15,000 individuals during the period of 2007-2016. They tracked the patients who reported the most severe instances of pain and traumatic injury on a scale of 1-15 with pain ranging from 9 level or higher and requiring some form of pain management with prescription opioids. Only half of those subjects were prescribed pain meds after leaving the hospital with just 9.9% continuing to take them 6 months after and then subsequently lowering to 1.1% after a whole year.
The two main risk components Schoenfeld and his team identified that made the individual from the sample study more likely to continue abusing drugs were age and socioeconomic status. Less wealthy, and by extension less senior ranking military personnel who were between the ages of 45-64 were more likely to continue abusing opioids as opposed to the patients in the 18-24 year old cohort.
Getting Help Where its Needed
These new findings are in no way conclusive and still need to be cross-referenced among other published medical and peer-reviewed scientific journals. This research does however shed a scathing light on the way the medical community profiles pain patients. There is still a massive social stigma and taboo when it comes to the subject of addiction with regards to opiates and opioids. It is of the utmost importance to be able to distinguish useful relevant information from sensational hoopla from the media and other major news outlets. It would appear that opioid dependence is not primarily a young person’s affliction, but that the older less afluent demographic is also quite vulnerable.