Sex Differences in Chronic Pain Management Practices for Patients Receiving Opioids from the Veterans Health Administration

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Women experience chronic pain and use pain-related health care at higher rates than men. It is not known whether the pain-related health care female veterans receive is consistent with clinical practice guideline recommendations or whether receipt of this care differs between men and women.


The aim of this study was to identify whether sex differences in chronic pain management care exist for patients served by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).


Data on patient demographics, diagnostic criteria, and health care utilization were extracted from VHA administrative databases for fiscal year 2010 (FY10).


Patients in this study included all VHA patients (excluding metastatic cancer patients) who received more than 90 days of a short-acting opioid medicationora long-acting opioid medication prescription in FY10 study.


Multilevel logistic regressions were conducted to identify sex differences in receipt of guideline-recommended chronic pain management.


A total of 480,809 patients met inclusion criteria. Female patients were more likely to receive most measures of guideline-recommended care for chronic pain including mental health assessments, psychotherapy, rehabilitation therapy, and pharmacy reconciliation. However, women were more likely to receive concurrent sedative prescriptions, which is inconsistent with guideline recommendations. Most of the observed sex differences persisted after controlling for key demographic and diagnostic differences.


Findings suggest that female VHA patients are more likely to receive an array of pain management practices than male patients, including both contraindicated and recommended polypharmacy. Quality improvement efforts to address underutilization of mental health and rehabilitative services for pain by male patients and polypharmacy in female patients should be considered.

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