There is a silver lining in the fight against the opioid epidemic in the United States, the number of individuals with private insurance who receive these dangerous medicine prescriptions has decreased.
Previous studies have shown a statewide decline in prescribing rates amid guidelines issued by governments, health systems, and insurers over the past ten years intended to reduce opioid prescriptions. These restrictions do not apply to patients who are undergoing cancer treatment.
The new study included cancer patients as well as people with other chronic pain. It found that overall prescribing rates still dropped.
“We find that from 2012 to 2019 there were declines in opioid prescribing for individuals with chronic non-cancer pain and individuals with cancer without corresponding increases in receipt of non-opioid therapies,” authors Sachini Bandara and Emma McGinty of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and Dr. Mark Bicket of the University of Michigan wrote.
“These findings highlight the need to better understand how declines in prescribing are influencing the management of pain among these patient populations, particularly as the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is currently updating opioid prescribing guidelines for chronic pain,” the authors said in a journal news release.
For the study, the researchers analyzed insurance claims from 100 private companies. They looked at patients with cancer and those with other types of pain, including low back pain, neuropathic pain, headaches, or arthritis. Between 2012 and 2019, the percentage of people who were prescribed an opioid for cancer-related pain dropped from 86% to 78.7%, the study found. Those who received opioid prescriptions for other types of pain dropped from 49.7% to 30.5%.
While rates of non-opioid pain medication were steady for people with non-cancer pain, researchers found they rose for cancer patients from 74.4% to 78.8%. For those who still received opioids, fewer people received extremely high doses or more than a one-week supply, the researchers reported. They said more study is needed to learn how the revised guidelines influenced pain management in both groups.