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Study: Opioid Recipients Report More Satisfaction With Pain Treatment

A doctor writes notes as the patient talks about her elbow.A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine reports on the link between opioid use and satisfaction with treatment. It found that when doctors prescribe opioid medications to people with musculoskeletal conditions (like arthritis), those people are more satisfied with their care.

In 2016, 42,249 people overdosed on prescription and illicit opioids. Campaigns to reduce reliance on opioid prescriptions have so far failed to slow the epidemic. Chronic pain is a primary risk factor for dying of an opioid overdose. Musculoskeletal conditions are a major source of chronic pain.

Opioid Prescriptions Improve Treatment Satisfaction

The researchers analyzed data on 19,566 people with musculoskeletal conditions. These people participated in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey between 2008 and 2014. About 13% (2,564) of participants used prescription opioids.

After adjusting for demographic and health characteristics, researchers compared opioid users to non-users. People who used opioids moderately were 55% more likely than non-users to report high satisfaction with their care. Heavy opioid use made people 43% more likely to report high satisfaction. In other words, moderate use had a stronger link to care satisfaction than heavy use did.

Yet improved satisfaction did not necessarily mean improved results. Opioid users reported more pain and disability than those who did not use opioids.

The study’s authors say further research should focus on whether these higher satisfaction levels are linked to any health benefits. In many cases, physician’s compensation depends on patient satisfaction. Doctors may have an incentive to prescribe opioids even when the drugs do not improve patient health.

Untangling the Connection Between Chronic Pain and Opioid Addiction

Chronic pain is a complex condition with both physiological and psychological components. Health care providers can struggle to balance the risks of opioid addiction with the benefits of pain relief. Every individual has different needs.

Some research suggests opioids may worsen chronic pain in the long term. A 2014 animal study found the opioid morphine caused spine inflammation in rats. The inflammation made the rats’ pain worse. If people who use opioids experience similar physical changes, they may also become more sensitive to pain over time.


  1. Joint pain patients prescribed opioids more likely to report high care satisfaction. (2018, January 9). Becker’s Hospital Review. Retrieved from https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/opioids/joint-pain-patients-prescribed-opioids-more-likely-to-report-high-care-satisfaction.html
  2. Sites, B. D., Harrison, J., Herrick, M. D., Masaracchia, M. M., Beach, M. L., & Davis, M. A. (2018). Prescription opioid use and satisfaction with care among adults with musculoskeletal conditions. The Annals of Family Medicine, 16(1), 6-13. doi:10.1370/afm.2148

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