Use Caution When Analyzing Chronic Pain Studies

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • Yes, there was a real research study done to determine which type of flea jumped higher.  Not only that, the study is recorded in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. 

    You're probably wondering why I'm telling you about flea research.  I came across this little tidbit when I was looking for a title for this post about three recent research projects that, in my opinion, were virtually useless. 

    Every day I get notices of the results of a variety of different research projects.  I try to filter through them and share with you those that are most applicable and useful to chronic pain sufferers.  Last week three studies came across my desk that struck me as being a waste of money. 

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    1.  Higher Opioid Dose Linked to Overdose Risk in Chronic Pain Patients – This study concluded, “Patients who received higher opioid doses were 9 times more likely to overdose than were those receiving low doses. Still, most of the overdoses occurred among patients receiving low to medium doses, because prescriptions at those levels were much more common.” 

    Huh?  Ok, I get it.  And I might even think it had some value had I not read on to discover that the overdose situations identified in the study were not evaluated to assess potential contributing factors like suicide attempts, drugs obtained from nonmedical sources, or whether patients accidentally or intentionally took more of the medication than was prescribed.  Since I strongly suspect those contributing factors had a lot to do with most of the overdoses, what good is a study that doesn't take them into account?

    2.  Study Reveals Predictors of Long-term Opioid Use for Back Pain  – This little gem concluded that patients who smoked and patients who did not have surgery for their back pain were more likely to use opioids long term. 

    Although they had no real reason to explain the smoking link, they surmised that smoking could be considered a marker for substance abuse and therefore could predict long-term opioid use.  That sounds to me like they consider anyone who needs to use opioids long term for back pain to be substance abusers, which is a ridiculous and insulting assumption.  On top of that, I know a lot of people who smoke and none of them abuse drugs or alcohol.  As for the part about not having surgery, the authors noted that risks associated with continued pain management with opioids in some patients may outweigh the risks of surgery.  I can't help but wonder if surgeons conducted the study as they seem to be promoting more back surgeries. 

    3.  Wrist Pain? Maybe Too Much Sex is to Blame. – Yes, you read that correctly.  Actually, this is still just a theory.  I don't think any actual research has been done yet.  (I'm not sure I even want to know how the research might be conducted.)  Apparently a researcher has decided that the increased incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in recent years may be attributed to the frequency of sex.  It all has to do with an individual supporting his weight with his hands... well, you get the picture.  Admitedly I don't know a great deal about CTS.  I can see that sex could exacerbate CTS, but how much sex would you have to have in order to cause it?  Maybe there could be some medical value in pursuing a study of this, but I can't help but think there are a lot more important pain issues to devote time and money to.

  • Time to Prioritize

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    With all of the economic problems the world is facing these days, funding for research is getting more and more difficult to come by.  It's time for the medical research community to reevaluate their priorities and focus their efforts on studies that will really help patients.  How about finding better treatments for relieving pain so chronic pain patients can get their lives back? 

    Higher Opioid Dose Linked to Overdose Risk in Chronic Pain Patients. Science News. January 19, 2010.
    Study Reveals Predictors of Long-term Opioid Use for Back Pain. Newswise. January 15, 2010.
    Wrist Pain? Maybe Too Much Sex is to Blame. News/Research Updates. January 23, 2010.

Published On: January 31, 2010