Understanding Chronic Pain and the Role of Opioids

Guy battling Chronic Pain

Data encompassing the past two decades revealed an overall increase in Chronic Pain trends and opioid use among American adults. Freely prescribed and mindlessly consumed, the opioid consumption trends have taken an epidemic turn.

Rising pain trends and opioid use

Research shows that American adults, aged 18 years and older, were increasingly experiencing at least one painful health condition, as this population significantly grew from 120.2 million (32.9 percent) in 1997/1998 to 178 million (41 percent) in 2013/2014.

The rate of consumption of strong opioids, including fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone, for purposes of pain management among adults with severe pain-related ailments more than doubled from 4.1 million (11.5 percent) in 2001/2002 to 10.5 million 24.3 percent in 2013/2014.

The study, conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health, showed that by 2013/2014, about one-third of individuals (68 million) with a painful health condition reported moderate or severe pain-related disturbances with everyday work activities.

The researchers also found that patients with severe pain-related disturbances were more likely to use strong opioids, to have had four or more opioid prescriptions, and to have visited a doctor six or more times for their pain compared to those with minimal discomfort.

Understanding chronic pain

OxyContin For Pain - Addiction HopeManaging chronic pain is complex. Typically lasting more than three months, chronic pain can be caused by an initial injury leading to nerve damage or may arise due to an ongoing cause, such as an illness. In many instances, however, there is no clear cause.

Accompanying health problems such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, reduced appetite, and mood fluctuations can further inhibit an individual’s movement and strength.

More than 25 million people in the U.S. alone live with chronic pain.

It is important to realize that chronic pain cannot be cured. It can only be managed. The goal of chronic pain treatment is to reduce pain and improve body function.

Opioids are often used to treat pain as they work well with the majority of patients and stop the body from processing pain on many physical levels, from the skin to the brain.

However, opioids also produce reinforcing feelings of happiness and wellbeing, leading to building tolerance and ultimately addiction.

Moving beyond opioids

Efforts to reduce the number of prescription opioids in circulation have been stepped up in recent years as the country struggles to manage the growing opioid addiction problem.

Experts believe that other drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be just as effective for acute pain, that is short term-pain pain typically experienced after an accident or an operation, and do not require a prescription.

Using alternate options first to opioids can be especially important to manage acute pain in areas such as dentistry where teens and young adults are the majority of the patients receiving prescribed opioids for the first time.

Ibuprofen Everyday Pain MedicationHealthcare professionals are guided to give shorter prescriptions in order to discourage misuse and diversion of pills.

Since pain is a sensory and emotional experience, research has shown that talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help many patients with chronic pain by allowing them to behave or think in different ways that alter their perception of pain.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also help people with chronic pain manage related health problems, increasing the quality of life for people with chronic pain.

Other treatment options include acupuncture, meditation, massage therapies, electrical stimulation, nerve blocks and surgeries in extreme cases. These can be used in conjunction with medications.

“This long-term picture of pain management is of critical importance as NIH addresses the opioid crisis. It offers insights that can help improve decision-making by stakeholders—from patients and providers to payers and policymakers,” concluded Helene Langevin, M.D., NCCIH director.

If you or a loved one are experiencing persistent pain, it is recommended to discuss all your options with your healthcare provider. This is particularly important for young adult and teenage patients who may be receiving opioid prescriptions for the first time and are more susceptible to opioids.


1. https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html
2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/two-decades-data-reveal-overall-increase-pain-opioid-use-among-us-adults
3. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/10/managing-pain

About the Author:

Sana Ahmed photoSana Ahmed is a journalist and social media savvy content writer with extensive research, print, and on-air interview skills. She has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from the London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. Her recent work has largely been focused upon mental health and addiction recovery.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on March 27, 2019
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 27, 2019
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.