According to a Michigan Medicine study, patients with two pediatric-onset neurodevelopmental disorders are prescribed opioids at considerably greater rates than those who do not have the diseases, raising concerns about addiction, overdose, and mental health difficulties.
The researchers looked at opioid prescriptions from private insurance claims for over 22,000 individuals with cerebral palsy or spina bifida and over 930,000 patients without the disorders.
They discovered that patients with cerebral palsy and spina bifida were prescribed oral morphine equivalents, which are generated from drugs such as oxycodone, codeine, and morphine, at up to five times the incidence of individuals without such diseases. According to findings published in Heliyon, (a Cell Press journal) those with no pain, isolated discomfort, and chronic pain all had greater prescription trends (Peterson et al., 2022).
“Our findings are of great concern, given the known links between persistent opioid use and psychiatric conditions, as well as overdose mortality,” said lead author Mark Peterson, Ph.D., M.S., an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical School.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a group of drugs commonly used to relieve pain. They can be divided into two main categories, natural and synthetic.
Natural opioids are extracted from the opium poppy plant. Morphine, codeine, and thebaine are all natural opioids. Synthetic opioids (or man-made opioids) are created in a laboratory. These include fentanyl, tramadol, methadone, and hydromorphone.
Opioids have many therapeutic benefits and can help reduce pain, calm anxiety, and relax the body. However, these drugs can be highly addictive and can cause serious health problems when abused.
Chronic Pain: Origin and Impacts
Chronic pain is a physical condition where a person feels pain and discomfort in a certain area of their body for more than six months. It is different from acute pain, which usually diminishes over time. can vary in intensity levels and can often be disabling.
Chronic pain is the most often reported symptom among people with cerebral palsy, a neurological illness caused by brain abnormalities, and spina bifida, a neural tube defect that can cause spinal cord and nerve damage. Pain in these people can be caused by a variety of factors, including muscular stiffness, arthritis, and invasive surgical treatments.
Chronic pain can have a wide variety of effects on a person’s life. It can create difficulty with daily activities, disrupt sleep, contribute to stress and depression, limit physical activity, and decrease quality of life.
Previous research indicated that more than 40% of all Medicaid recipients with disabilities used opioid pain medications, with more than 20% reporting chronic opioid usage (Morden et al., 2014). The study’s authors question whether long-term opiate usage is acceptable for the management of non-cancer-related chronic pain.
Future research should look into the effectiveness of non-opioid pain medications and alternative pain management strategies for adults with cerebral palsy and spina bifida, says co-author Edward Hurvitz, M.D., chair of the University of Michigan Health Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a professor at the University of Michigan Medical School.
“By matching medications to underlying pain causes, improving clinical pain screening procedures and providing efficient referral systems for appropriate pain management may help minimize the burden of opioid addiction and overdose in these groups,” Hurvitz said.