MSK Pain and Prescribing Opioids

February 04, 2020

A new study published by the National Institutes of Health’s Journal of Pain reveals that first-time patients suffering from chronic MSK pain are prescribed opioids more often than non-drug treatments. Researchers analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey between 2007 and 2015. The data came from 11,994 visits over the 9-year period.

They found that these patients were prescribed non-opioid drugs 40.2% of the time, with opioids being prescribed 21.5% of the time. In contrast, non-drug treatments (such as counseling, exercise programs, diet and nutrition advice, and weight reduction strategies) were prescribed 14.3% of the time. Physical therapy was prescribed only 10% of the time. These results revealed that opioids were prescribed twice as much as physical therapy.

Researchers pointed to a wide range of patient-related factors that impacted this trend. In addition to the patients’ age, sex, body mass index, ethnicity, and payer status, these factors also included the specialty of the clinician making the prescription and if the clinician was using electronic medical records versus paper records.

“Particularly when the patient is experiencing pain that may become chronic, that first clinical encounter can set the course for patient care moving forward,” said Dr. Helene Langevin, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.”

Read the full study.