Health service utilisation by people living with chronic non-cancer pain: findings from the Pain and Opioids IN Treatment (POINT) study

Suzanne Nielsen, Gabrielle Campbell, Amy Peacock, Kimberly Smith, Raimondo Bruno, Wayne Hall, Milton Cohen, Louisa Degenhardt
Australian Health Review: a Publication of the Australian Hospital Association 2016, 40 (5): 490-499
Objective The aims of the present study were to describe the use, and barriers to the use, of non-medication pain therapies and to identify the demographic and clinical correlates of different non-opioid pain treatments. Methods The study was performed on a cohort (n=1514) of people prescribed pharmaceutical opioids for chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP). Participants reported lifetime and past month use of healthcare services, mental and physical health, pain characteristics, current oral morphine equivalent daily doses and financial and access barriers to healthcare services. Results Participants reported the use of non-opioid pain treatments, both before and after commencing opioid therapy. Services accessed most in the past month were complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs; 41%), physiotherapy (16%) and medical and/or pain specialists (15%). Higher opioid dose was associated with increased financial and access barriers to non-opioid treatment. Multivariate analyses indicated being younger, female and having private health insurance were the factors most commonly associated with accessing non-opioid treatments. Conclusions Patients on long-term opioid therapy report using multiple types of pain treatments. High rates of CAM use are concerning given limited evidence of efficacy for some therapies and the low-income status of most people with CNCP. Financial and insurance barriers highlight the importance of considering how different types of treatments are paid for and subsidised. What is known about the topic? Given concerns regarding long-term efficacy, adverse side-effects and risk of misuse and dependence, prescribing guidelines recommend caution in prescribing pharmaceutical opioids in cases of CNCP, typically advising a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. There is a range of evidence supporting different (non-drug) treatment approaches for CNCP to reduce pain severity and increase functioning. However, little is known about the non-opioid treatments used among those with CNCP and the demographic and clinical characteristics that may be associated with the use of different types of treatments. Understanding the use of non-drug therapy among people with CNCP is crucial given the potential to improve pain control for these patients. What does this paper add? The present study found that a wide range of non-opioid treatments was accessed by the study sample, both before and after commencing opioids, indicating that in this sample opioids were not the sole strategy used for pain management. The most common treatment (other than opioids) was CAM, reported by two-fifths of the sample. Having private health insurance was associated with increased use of non-opioid treatments for pain, highlighting the importance of considering how treatments are paid for and potential financial barriers to effective treatments. What are the implications for practitioners? Patients' beliefs and financial barriers may affect the uptake of different treatments. Many patients may be using complementary and alternative approaches with limited evidence to support their use, highlighting the need for clinicians to discuss with patients the range of prescribed and non-prescribed treatments they are accessing and to help them understand the benefits and risks of treatments that have not been tested sufficiently, or have inconsistent evidence, as to their efficacy in improving pain outcomes.

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