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Long-Term Opioid Therapy Often Leads to Addiction

An estimated one-third of chronic pain patients hooked on prescription drugs, study suggests

FRIDAY, July 29, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Addiction to prescription drugs is common among patients with chronic pain, with 35 percent of patients receiving long-term treatment with opioids now meeting the criteria for addiction, a new study has found.

In conducting the research, published in the July issue of the Journal of Addictive Diseases, researchers interviewed 705 people undergoing long-term opioid therapy for non-cancer pain between August 2007 and November 2008.

The study found that addiction to prescription pain medication -- such as morphine, OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin -- happens often among those with the following risk factors: younger than 65; a history of opioid abuse; withdrawal symptoms; and substance abuse treatment. Anti-social personality disorder, the researchers noted, is another risk factor for this type of addiction.

Moreover, even after the American Psychiatric Association revised its definition of addiction (which was expected to lower the number of patients meeting the criteria for addiction), the prevalence of prescription drug abuse has remained unchanged, the study found. The researchers surmised this is partly due to the fact that new symptoms now include patients who were previously left out.

In addition, people with a genetic predisposition to addiction are more likely to abuse prescription drugs, the study authors noted.

"Most patients will not know if they carry the genetic risk factors for addiction," Joseph Boscarino, a senior investigator at Geisinger Health System, said in an organization news release. "Improper or illegal use of prescription pain medication can become a lifelong problem with serious repercussions for users and their families."

The researchers concluded, however, that their findings could spur research into new treatments for pain that do not carry the same risk for addiction.

"Ultimately, we hope our research will aid the development of newer classes of medications that don't negatively impact the brain and therefore avoid addiction entirely," said Boscarino.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on prescription drug abuse.

SOURCE: Geisinger Health System, news release, July 21, 2011
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