A new study by one of the nation’s largest drug screening laboratories has found that nearly a third of chronic pain patients aged 50 or older are not taking the painkiller they were prescribed. Over one in four patients were also found to be taking a medication not prescribed by the doctor who ordered a urine drug test.
The analysis of over 725,000 urine screens was conducted by Ameritox. “Patterns of Drug Use in the Older Chronic Pain Population” was presented this week during the annual meeting of the American Pain Society.
The common perception is that America’s prescription drug epidemic is caused by younger people, but the data suggest that older pain patients have the same issues with non-compliance and misuse of drugs as the general population.
“This population has a risk of medication misuse and illicit drug use that warrants attention,” said Dr. Harry Leider, Chief Medical Officer of Ameritox. “A powerful medication was found in one in four older patients — one that the doctor prescribing a pain medication was not aware of. This data provides a compelling rationale for routinely monitoring medication use in older patients on chronic opioids.”
Older patients are also more likely to have multiple drugs prescribed by different doctors for different medical conditions. That places them at higher risk for dangerous drug interactions. Common side effects from drug interactions include constipation, changes in mental alertness, depression and falls.
The Ameritox study found:
- 31.8% of older patients did not have a prescribed painkiller detected.
- 28.1% had a non-prescribed drug detected.
- 7.6% had an illicit drug detected (marijuana, cocaine, heroin or PCP).
- 45.9% of samples had no abnormality.
The rates of misuse and non-compliance by patients in the Ameritox study are similar to those found in a recent study of drug screens conducted by Quest Diagnostics. Both companies claim regular urine screens will help physicians monitor whether their patients are misusing drugs.
“Older adults are the fastest growing subset of the U.S.population and one of the largest groups of chronic pain patients,” said Lisa Burke, PhD, RN, Ameritox. “Pain medication monitoring, through urine drug testing, is an important tool to help clinicians ensure their patients – regardless of their age – receive the best possible care and achieve relief from chronic pain.”
Ameritox also paid for a study presented during February’s annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. A panel of experts recommended drug testing of chronic pain patients at least four times a year if a doctor believes they are at risk of misusing painkillers. Regular drug screening was recommended even though the panel admitted “there currently is a limited evidence base to support the expert panel’s recommendations.”
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