One year after surgery to relieve back pain, about of third of patients still were using narcotic painkillers, according to a study that raised new concerns about the long-term use of opioids.

The finding, presented at the North American Spine Society meeting here, emerged from an analysis of data from 172 patients who underwent elective surgery for repair of the cervical spine.

Although many patients expressed satisfaction with the outcome of surgery, 51% of patients who were using opioids before the surgery still were using the drugs one year later, Marjorie Wang, MD, MPH of the Medical College of Wisconsin, and colleagues reported.

And among those who were not using the drugs before surgery, 18% were using them a year after their surgery.

Overall, 55 patients or 32% were using the opioids a year later.

The finding suggests that patients may become dependent on the drugs and have a difficult time getting off them, said Richard Deyo, MD, a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University who has done research on back pain and opioid use.

"The worrisome thing is patients often are getting opioids because it is the easiest thing," said Deyo who was not involved in the study.

Deyo said the study findings echoed other research showing a high level of opioid use continued as far as 2 years after patients underwent lumbar spine surgery.

Opioid use increased dramatically during the 2000s as the drugs were prescribed more for chronic, non cancer pain, though rigorous studies have not demonstrated either safety or efficacy for treatment of chronic back pain.

Along with the increased use has been escalating numbers of overdose deaths and addiction.

Continue reading...