Opioids for the Treatment of Chronic Pain: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned, and Future Directions

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Abstract

An overreliance on opioids has impacted all types of pain management, making it undoubtedly a root cause of the “epidemic” of prescription opioid abuse in the United States. Yet, an examination of the statistics that led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare that prescription opioid abuse had reached epidemic levels shows that the abuse occurrences and deaths are arising outside the hospital or hospice setting, which strongly implicates the outpatient use of opioids to treat chronic pain. Such abuse and related deaths are occurring in chronic pain patients themselves and also through diversion. Overprescribing to outpatients has afforded distressed and vulnerable individuals access to these highly addictive drugs. The focus of this article is on what we have learned since opioid treatment of chronic pain was first popularized at the end of the 20th century and how this new information can guide chronic pain management in the future.

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