The Chronic Pain Puzzle: How Treatments Can Foster Addiction

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) — Healthcare providers have long wrestled with the puzzling question of how to best to treat patients who suffer from chronic pain—a population of roughly 116 million people in the United States alone, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Their dilemma stems from the potential risks involved with long-term treatment, such as the development of drug tolerance, which brings with it the need for escalating dosage; hyperalgesia, i.e., increased pain sensitivity; and addiction.

Many patients might even be reluctant to take an opioid medication prescribed to them by their physician for fear of becoming addicted. Estimates of addiction among chronic pain patients vary widely from about three percent to 40 percent. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) believes this variability is the result of differences in treatment duration, insufficient research on long-term outcomes, disparate study populations and differing measures used to assess abuse or addiction.

To minimize addiction risk, NIDA recommends that physicians screen patients for potential warning signs, including personal or family history of drug abuse or mental illness. Monitoring patients for signs of abuse is also crucial. However, some indicators can signify multiple conditions, making accurate assessment challenging. Early or frequent requests for prescription pain medication refills, for example, could represent illness progression, the development of drug tolerance or the emergence of a drug problem.

All of this underscores why the development of effective, less addictive pain medications is a public health priority. Adding to the urgency of this issue is our growing elderly population and an increasing number of injured military returning from battle.

More research is also needed to better understand effective chronic pain management, including identifying factors that predispose some patients to addiction, and developing measures to prevent abuse.  So too are finding more ways of fundamentally treating pain management while also addressing the self-destructive undercurrents of addiction at the same time.

One company is actively engaged in this valiant pursuit: Raleigh, NC-based BioDelivery Sciences (BDSI). It has new approaches to treating addiction and managing pain.

Mark A. Sirgo, president and CEO of BDSI, explains, “Dealing with chronic pain and drug addiction are health challenges in need of new solutions. Physicians who treat patients with chronic pain are grappling with how to provide pain relief to their patients and to deal with the reality of opioid dependence. With that in mind, we are hoping the introduction of our products will work toward addressing a widespread epidemic that shows no sign of slowing down.”

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