Rates for co-existing chronic pain and opioid addiction vary depending on where you look, Dr. Potter says. “For patients in a pain clinic, addiction rates are relatively low, but in a methadone or buprenorphine population, between 34 to 40 percent will have a chronic pain complaint,” she says.
A doctor treating a person for pain needs to look for potential risk factors for substance abuse, such as a personal or family history of other types of substance abuse or psychiatric disorders, Dr. Potter says. “If a person has one of these risk factors, they shouldn’t automatically be denied opioids, but they should be informed of the risk of dependence and be monitored for potential abuse.”
For some people with chronic pain, medication isn’t always the answer, says Dr. Potter, who is studying the treatment of opioid dependence and chronic pain through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “There’s a false assumption that giving medicine makes pain go away, but in chronic situations that doesn’t always work,” she says. “Many people only get some reduction in pain.”