Low back pain affects nearly 80 percent of adults at some point during their lives, and it can vary drastically in its severity and cause. Degenerative disc disease and chronic low back pain are two major issues that affect many individuals, and these injuries are often associated with a high degree of pain. Because of this, many of those affected use some sort of prescription medication to alleviate the associated discomfort.
Managing Chronic Low Back Pain with Pharmaceuticals
Degenerative disc disease and chronic low back pain result from issues in the spine. When discs wear down, it can cause the vertebrae in the back to compress and lose height. This often leads to annular tears and leaking of the inner gel in the disc, which in turn leads to chronic, long-term pain. This results in the sufferer turning to a pharmaceutical solution to manage the injury.
There are a number of different classes of pain medication, and opioids are the most commonly prescribed type. Commonly prescribed opioids include morphine, methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, Percocet, and Vicodin. As a result of the addictive nature of these powerful opioids, there is a need for regulation. However, medical practices have focused on the financial gains of providing these medications over the addictive and destructive results of long-term use.
It is becoming increasingly easy to obtain these prescriptions, with doctors openly providing them to patients. In a sample of over 26,000 patients that have diagnosed with low back pain, 61 percent were prescribed opioids by their physician. Of those patients, 20% of them used these pain medications for extended periods of time. The ease with which patients are able to receive refills from doctors over prolonged periods of time substantially increases the chances of substance abuse.
The Addictive Risk
Opioid narcotics can be quite effective at reducing pain, however patients are at a high risk of becoming addicted. In the cases of degenerative disc disease or chronic low back pain, the body can rarely fully heal itself, which makes it difficult to reduce the amount of pain. As a result, many patients take these drugs for an extended period for pain management.
In addition to taking pharmaceuticals for an extended period, these opioid drugs can also be an addictive risk for patients who take them for the first time. After spinal surgery to try to correct degenerative disc disease or another chronic issue, a high percentage of individuals are prescribed opioids for the first time in their lives.
A study followed up for 12-months with 211 patients that underwent spinal surgery. They tracked the use of opioid medication, and 12 months after surgery 32 percent of patients were still using the pain-relieving opioids. 18 percent of those in the study that continued their prescriptions after 12 months had not taken opioids prior to surgery. Of those that were taking opioids before surgery, 51 percent of them continued to do so.