Use of opioid-alternative pain medications is surging as the U.S. tries to wean off the addictive painkillers, giving physicians concern that the opioid crisis will be substituted by a new prescription drug epidemic, according to a new report.
Nearly two-thirds of primary-care physicians shared that sentiment while nearly three-quarters worry that chronic pain patients will turn to illicit drugs if they do not have access to prescription opioids, according to a new report from Quest Diagnostics, which polled 500 primary-care doctors and analyzed 4.4 million lab test results. The report reflects physicians' apprehension that the healthcare system is ill-equipped to properly transition from an over-utilization of opioids.
"What most fail to realize is that we have a dual crisis in this country," said Dr. Jeffrey Gudin, a senior medical advisor for Quest and a pain management specialist at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey. "There is no question that people misuse substances that make them feel good, but there is also a crisis of chronic pain, of which there is no cure."
Providers worry that the opioid manufacturing caps and restrictions from insurers and providers are cutting off the much-needed supply for cancer patients and others with chronic pain.
It is considerably harder to treat chronic pain patients, 83% of physicians surveyed in the report said. A similar share said they are reluctant to take on patients who are currently prescribed opioids.
"Not a day passes that a patient doesn't shed real tears about having opioid doses tapered," said Gudin, adding that guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued in 2016 led to a widespread reduction in opioid doses without alternative treatment options.