For Some Women, Long-Term Opioid Use May Not Help

Long-term opioid use may not relieve chronic, non-cancer pain among some younger women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) The use of chronic opioid therapy (COT) has risen dramatically in recent years. But new evidence suggests that COT may not relieve pain in all patients equally.

A new study from the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle found that women — especially younger women — may be much less likely than men to get relief from chronic, non-cancer pain with COT.

"Given the high rates of chronic opioid use in women along with evidence of poor relief from pain and concerning risks, particularly in reproductive-aged women, we need more effective and safer options for managing pain in this population," said Susan G. Kornstein, MD, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Women's Health, in a press release.

Opioids are medications that relieve pain. Drugs that fall within this class include hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (Kadian, Avinza) and codeine, among others.

For this study, a team of researchers led by Linda LeResche, ScD, of UW's Office of Research, School of Dentistry, looked at the global pain status of 2,163 COT users ages 21 to 80. Global pain status is a measure of overall pain and function.

Patients were surveyed and asked to rate their pain levels, pain-related interference, activity limitation and pain impact on a scale of 0 to 10.

Young and middle-aged women (under age 65) were found to be at a particularly high risk for poor global pain status, with only 20 percent of these women reporting low levels of pain and high levels of function while on COT.

Among patients ages 65 to 80, women and men had similar global pain status scores.

According to Dr. LeResche and team, younger women also face unique risks from COT, such as low fertility and potential effects on a developing fetus if these drugs are used during pregnancy.

Dr. LeResche and colleagues concluded that more research is needed about how to best manage pain in this group.

This study was published Oct. 8 in the Journal of Women's Health.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
October 15, 2015
Last Updated:
October 19, 2015