Opioid risks aren’t limited to addiction, overdose and death. Lesser side effects include constipation, lowered sex drive, dry mouth and a general feeling of sedation. These drugs can cause problems with the heart and lungs as they depress the body’s systems. Prolonged opioid use by chronic pain patients can lead to tolerance, requiring higher doses of the drug, in turn increasing the risks associated with its use.
Recent research suggests a new concern related to opioid use: It may worsen prognosis for patients receiving back surgery.
In the study found at www.sciencedaily.com, researchers tracked the progress of 583 spine surgery recipients at three and 12 months post-surgery. Fifty-six percent had used opioid medications prior to surgery. To compare the amount of opioids used by each patient, the researchers used what is called the morphine-equivalent method, allowing them to compare different types and dosages of opioid medications.
To measure progress, researchers implemented tests yielding results for pain, depression, disability, physical and mental function and distress. Participants who used opioids in the past exhibited poorer results post-surgery than those who hadn’t used the drugs. Higher daily doses of opioid medications corresponded with poorer outcomes.
Of particular concern was the finding that opioid use was more prevalent among participants who exhibited mental health symptoms such as depression. Patients with depression have been found to be more likely to misuse opioids than non-depressed patients. One study of over 1,300 patients found that those with moderate depression were 1.8 times more likely to misuse opioids than non-depressed patients, whereas severely depressed patients were 2.4 times more likely to misuse them.
See more on the study at www.annfammed.org.
The study into post-surgery outcomes for back pain patients doesn’t indicate why exactly opioid use is associated with poorer outcomes. It does make clear that prior opioid use is associated with poorer outcomes in both physical and mental health measures. The explanation may be physiological, psychological or both.
Worsened prognosis for surgery patients is just one more reason to be wary of opioid medications. Whenever possible, seek out pain management methods that address pain at its source rather than simply mask it.