Opioid-related hospital stays have steadily risen over the past few years. This rise has been attributed to opioid abuse, addiction, and poisoning. In the US, the number of chronic diseases reported have also risen, with 1 in 4 adults living with 2 or more chronic diseases every day. Since opioids are commonly prescribed to these chronic disease patients, researchers examined the association between patients with chronic diseases, and opioid-related hospitalizations. Study results were published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) journal Preventing Chronic Disease:
“We found that more than 90% of opioid-related hospitalizations were among patients with 2 or more chronic diseases and that the trend in opioid-related hospitalization among patients with chronic diseases is increasing. This finding is salient given that 1 in 4 US adults are living with 2 or more chronic diseases. Both the opioid crisis and rising rates of chronic disease have been described as epidemics; however, they are currently being treated separately. The US Department of Health and Human Services’ 5-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis focuses on the treatment of addiction, which is important for addressing the epidemic in the short term. A population-level approach to preventing and treating chronic diseases is also needed. Health services must address the 2 issues — opioid misuse and management of chronic disease — simultaneously.”
Over 3 million hospitalizations for opioid abuse, addiction, and poisoning between 2011 and 2015 were analyzed by researchers. It was found that patients with chronic conditions including asthma, spinal disease, obesity, liver disease, and cancer were most likely to have their pain treated with opioids.
Many of the patients were Caucasian, age 35 to 54 years, received care in urban hospitals, and had been diagnosed with 2 or more chronic conditions. The statistics also showed the number of opioid-related hospitalizations were equally divided between men and women.
Statistically, opioid-related hospitalizations were most common in urban-area hospitals by people on Medicare and Medicaid.
Asthma was the number one condition most associated with hospitalization, followed by obesity, and then liver disease. There was a significant association between the presence of chronic disease and the prescription of opioids by a doctor to treat the associated pain. This was true for every year researchers studied.
While rising chronic disease rates and the opioid addiction crisis have been called epidemics, they are treated as separate issues within the US healthcare system. Researchers suggest that these epidemics should be treated concurrently. Medical researchers suggest that pain management for patients with chronic diseases could be addressed using alternative methods. Non-pharmacologic interventions, such as exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), could help to reduce the number of opioids prescribed to chronic disease patients.
While the study could prove to change the way chronic disease symptoms are managed, the data researchers gathered was limited in scope to a relatively short period of time. Other limitations include the lack of controlling for covariates, and the small number of chronic diseases researchers studied. The study did not consider any mental health conditions, which were omitted from the gathered data.
The findings of the study show that patients with 2 or more chronic conditions exhibit a high prevalence for opioid-related hospitalization. It goes on to recommend that these patients should be provided with alternative interventions to educate them on the potential for opioid misuse.
The first commonly overlooked alternative to opioid medication for pain are over the counter (OTC) pain medications. These include aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. In addition, there are non-opioid prescriptions to help with pain such as steroids. These common, safe, and accessible options are often overlooked because people assume that they need something stronger when diagnosed with a chronic illness. Other people find relief with nondrug therapies that can be used alone, or in combination with medications.
Non-drug therapies include:
Sometimes, the combination of non-opioid medication and traditional therapies do not relieve a patient’s pain. Because of this, new techniques are always being researched and developed to relieve chronic pain in people suffering from chronic conditions and diseases. Many researchers believe the implementation of these next-generation methods could help to reduce the number of opioid-related hospitalizations by reducing the overall number of opioids prescribed to patients with chronic diseases.
Here are some of the latest methods:
People who live with chronic conditions, especially those with chronic pain, are used to having their motives questioned by their medical providers when seeking medication. Doctors have the difficult task of determining if their patients are seeking opioid-based medication due to a substance abuse disorder, rather than pain relief for symptoms of their chronic illness or condition.
The journey to wellness should always begin with a doctor who listens to you and understands your chronic condition. An important part of seeking help for an addiction when you have a chronic illness is to be honest about your addiction history.
Talk to your doctor about the best way to manage your disease without furthering your addiction. If you find yourself abusing your medication, or adopting new addictive behaviors, you must tell your doctor immediately. Depending upon your condition, you may be able to alternate between different medications designed to do the same things, which could help to reduce the risk of dependency.
If it is determined that you need help with an addiction while suffering from a chronic illness that requires pain medication, seek help immediately. The level of addiction care you can choose may be affected by your condition. Many times, people with chronic illnesses opt to receive addiction treatment in facilities that offer a higher level of care. Rehabs offering ASAM Level 4 care, referred to as Medically Managed Intensive Inpatient Services for adolescents and adults. This level of care offers 24-hour nursing care and daily physician.