One in three people with lupus uses opioid painkillers even though there is little evidence that they reduce the pain of rheumatic diseases, a new study finds.
"Rheumatic diseases, such as lupus, are a leading cause of chronic pain," said lead author Emily Somers. She's an associate professor of rheumatology, environmental health sciences, and obstetrics and gynecology at Michigan Medicine, in Ann Arbor.
For the study, her team collected data on 650 patients, some with lupus and others without. The investigators found that 31 percent of those with lupus used prescription opioids (such as OxyContin), compared with 8 percent of those without the condition.
Also, 68 percent of lupus patients who relied on opioids had used them for at least a year, and 22 percent had prescriptions for two or more such medications.
"These findings were alarming because one in three patients with lupus was 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 in a university news release.
The findings also showed that lupus patients who had visited an emergency department in the past year were twice as likely as other patients to use prescription opioids.
Somers said that non-opioid therapies are effective for lupus, but are underused. She added that non-drug treatments, such as physical activity and teaching patients how to cope with pain may be safer and more effective in the long run.
"This level of opioid use signals a need for health care 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," Somers said.
The report was published Sept. 26 in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.