People with Lupus are 3 Times More Likely to use Opioids to Control Pain, Study Finds

People with Lupus are 3 Times More Likely to use Opioids to Control Pain, Study Finds

Despite limited evidence that opioids reduce pain in people with rheumatic diseases, a study has found that nearly one in three adults with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) use prescription opioids for pain control, with two-thirds of them using these medications for longer than one year.

The study, “Prescription Opioid Use in Patients With and Without Systemic Lupus Erythematosus — Michigan Lupus Epidemiology and Surveillance Program, 2014–2015,” was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In general, opioids are not recommended for pain control in rheumatic diseases such as lupus. In addition to the risk of addiction and other serious health consequences, these medications are not considered effective at controlling pain in these conditions.

Despite this, opioids are sometimes prescribed for lupus-related pain. In the new study, researchers wanted to find out how frequently opioids are used by people with lupus.

“With the current opioid epidemic and evolving guidance related to opioid prescribing, we wanted to determine current levels of prescription opioid use in lupus,” Emily Somers, PhD, a professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, said in a news release.

The researchers conducted structured interviews with 462 people with SLE from the population-based Michigan Lupus Epidemiology and Surveillance cohort and 192 people without the condition living in the same geographical area.

The SLE group had a relatively higher proportion of females and unemployed people, and higher rates of symptoms such as fibromyalgia, anxiety, and depression.

In total, 143 (31%) people with SLE and 15 (8%) without the condition used prescription opioids in the period between 2014 and 2015, which is a statistically significant difference. The median duration of opioid use was three years.

Among users with lupus, 68% had been on opioids for more than a year, and 22% were using two or more opioids simultaneously.

Overall, SLE patients were three times more likely to use opioids than controls, after accounting for demographic, psychosocial, and clinical factors.

“These findings were alarming because one in three patients with lupus were using a prescription opioid, with the majority of those for longer than a year, even though opioids may not be providing benefits and have harmful side effects,” Somers said.

“This level of opioid use signals a need for healthcare providers to consider effective non-opioid pain management strategies in these patients and to familiarize themselves with guidelines for opioid tapering and discontinuation when appropriate,” she added.

The researchers looked for risk factors associated with an increased likelihood of opioid use among people with SLE. They found that patients who reported at least one visit to the emergency room in the past year were about twice as likely to use opioids than others who did not visit the emergency department. Reported pain and reduced physical functioning were also significantly associated with a greater likelihood of opioid use.

“Patients with lupus generally receive immunosuppressive and glucocorticoid therapies, which already put patients at a higher risk for known adverse effects related to long-term opioid use,” Somers added.

Therefore, “clinicians managing SLE, including providers in emergency departments, need to be aware of these risks and consider non-opioid pain management strategies,” the study said.

Marisa holds an MS in Cellular and Molecular Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied novel genetic drivers of ovarian cancer. She specializes in cancer biology, immunology, and genetics. Marisa began working with BioNews in 2018, and has written about science and health for SelfHacked and the Genetics Society of America. She also writes/composes musicals and coaches the University of Pittsburgh fencing club.
Total Posts: 289
Inês holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, where she specialized in blood vessel biology, blood stem cells, and cancer. Before that, she studied Cell and Molecular Biology at Universidade Nova de Lisboa and worked as a research fellow at Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologias and Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. Inês currently works as a Managing Science Editor, striving to deliver the latest scientific advances to patient communities in a clear and accurate manner.
×
Marisa holds an MS in Cellular and Molecular Pathology from the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied novel genetic drivers of ovarian cancer. She specializes in cancer biology, immunology, and genetics. Marisa began working with BioNews in 2018, and has written about science and health for SelfHacked and the Genetics Society of America. She also writes/composes musicals and coaches the University of Pittsburgh fencing club.
Latest Posts
  • IL-2
  • lupus, opioid use
  • vitamin D and SLE
  • PROMIS10 survey lupus

7 comments

  1. Janine S. says:

    What about the lupus patients who are successfully controlling pain with occasional use of opioids? Working full-time as a teacher and taking care of a home and property keeps me busy. Different circumstances and conditions affect my pain level. Sometimes, acetaminophen just doesn’t cut it! One dose of hydrocodone makes a day like that more manageable. Taking it one or two days a week on average is certainly not addiction. I’m concerned that good patients like me will suffer because someone else makes broad-sweeping decisions that are fueled by a study or the poor behavior of patients who abuse it. Let doctors prescribe opioids to responsible lupus patients who just want a chance to LIVE their lives.

  2. Leslie says:

    I could not make it through a day, no a morning, and especially not the night without my pain patch. I am sorry that opioid addiction is a crisis worldwide but for those with chronic pain it may be essential. I know it is for me.

  3. Tricia Harvey says:

    I can’t take a shower or wash my hair without a pain pill. Lupus and fibromyalgia cause pain in our bodies. PAIN. The pain medication does not make it all go away but it does allow us some ease in doing a few things around the house. It took me 8 hours yesterday to make my son a cake for his birthday. Why? Because I had to rest every few minutes. Standing too long caused pain. Then I would start to heat up and start sweating profusely. I would have to sit down to cool off and try to decrease the pain. It’s ridiculous. Why aren’t these people asking us what the pain medication allows us to do? How our lives would be without it? I’m practically a shut in now with barely a life. Without my pain medication, I would be bedridden. I’m 51.

  4. Amanda Saba says:

    The latest information the CDC released about people with chronic pain and opioids is the opposite of everything this person wrote. Whoever wrote this obviously doesn’t have SLE, or at least they are still doing pretty well with their SLE. My body decides to shut down random parts on different days, my spine is deteriorating, and my nerves are a disaster. If I plan to sleep after a day of being upright, I need my pain meds that I have diligently stuck to my prescription for the whole time I’ve been on them.

  5. scottieintx says:

    This article makes me so mad! It almost makes you wish SLE on the person who wrote it. But, then again I’m not that cruel. Narcotics have made my life worth living. I’m able to function like a semi normal person again! I can leave the house instead of being trapped inside with pain on a level 9! The pain doesn’t disappear but it’s managed. I’m very fortunate to have found a great pain doctor who understands SLE and pain.

  6. Martha says:

    I been on Norco for 9 years but in those 9 years every 3to 4 months I was having surgeries I have had 19 surgeries I have Lupus SLE , Fibromyalgia, RA, Chronic hip pain. I’m glad to be on pain meds cause I’m able to function without I’m suffering

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *