Prescription Pain Medication is Shockingly Harmful


Author: Bryan Lang, PT, DPT, MHA, OCS, CSCS, Cert.DN: Doctor of Physical Therapy, Business Owner, Associate Professor, and Blog Contributor. Explores common client questions, helps find solutions for every day functional health concerns, and interprets difficult theories in healthcare rehabilitation. Committed to life-long learning and education. Learn more about Bryan on Google+.


Opioids were commonly prescribed for low back pain for many years. Low back pain is the most frequent cause of pain and days of work missed in the United States. There are still doctors who will prescribe opioids for acute low back pain, because they feel their patient will be upset if they choose not to, where instead they should educate them about the pain life cycle and advise against taking medication. It's becoming blatantly clear that those doctors still prescribing opioids are doing much more harm to their patients than good. 

  • There exists a clear association between early opioid use (<6 weeks) for acute low back pain and poor outcomes
    • >8,000 patients were involved in the study and tracked over 2 years
    • Those who took pain medication had longer disability duration with higher medical costs
    • They were disabled 69 days longer, had 3X increased surgery rates, and had double the disability rate at 1 year 
  • The authors concluded that "it is suggested that the use of opioid for management of acute low back pain may be counterproductive to recovery" 

But it gets worse: Opioids cause death and addiction

Take a look at the number of drug poisonings per 100,000 people for each state in 2010

And those who are addicted to prescription painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin...

In 2012, and estimated 12.5 million people reported using prescription painkillers without a prescription.

Opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) killed more that 28,000 people in 2014. That was more than any year on record. At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.

And yet after all we know, sales keep soaring

A small percentage of providers, roughly 20 percent, are responsible for 80 percent of all prescription painkillers in 2010

Impact on Public Health

  • 1.2 million emergency visits due to misuse or abuse of prescription pharmaceuticals in 2009
  • Compared to 1.0 million visits from the illicit drugs (all other illegal drugs)
  • Increased emergency department utilization by 98.4% from 2004
  • Prescription opiates are frequently diverted or sold for non-medical use by patients or their friends
  • Non-medical use of opiates costs insurances $72.5 billion annually in health care costs. No wonder why premiums keep going up. 

Once a Public Enemy, Turned Potential Medical SAVIOR

Regardless of your personal feelings about marijuana, it is extremely less addicting than opioid medication. A Study published in the journal Health Affairs found that in 17 states with medical-marijuana laws starting in 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell significantly compared to states that did not have a medical-marijuana laws. 

  • Average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year
  • 486 fewer doses of seizure medication
  • 541 fewer anti nausea doses
  • 562 fewer anti-anxiety medication
  • Most shockingly 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers

Thank your doctor the next time you see him or her if they care enough to NOT give you opioids for Acute pain

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