Two decades of data reveal overall increase in pain, opioid use among U.S. adults

Researchers measured pain’s impact on normal work activities, people’s health status, and health care use

Prompted by a call from the National Academy of Medicine, then the Institute of Medicine, for improved national data on pain, a recent study provides new insights concerning pain trends and opioid use for pain management. Researchers used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) to examine the impact of pain-related interference, a measure of pain’s impact on normal work activities, on people’s health status and health care use. MEPS is a nationally representative survey of the U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized population.

Researchers showed that the number of U.S. adults age 18 and older suffering from at least one painful health condition increased substantially from 120.2 million (32.9 percent) in 1997/1998 to 178 million (41 percent) in 2013/2014. Furthermore, the use of strong opioids, like fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone, for pain management among adults with severe pain-related interference more than doubled from 4.1 million (11.5 percent) in 2001/2002 to 10.5 million (24.3 percent) in 2013/2014. These are the findings of a comprehensive analysis of 18-year trends showing changes in the overall rates of noncancer pain prevalence and management. The full study, conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health; Social & Scientific Systems, Inc., Silver Spring, Maryland; and Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut; was published in the Journal of Pain.

“We took a unique approach with this study by simultaneously examining long-term trends in the overall prevalence of noncancer pain in the U.S., the impact of this pain, and health care use attributable directly to pain management,” says Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., first author on the study and NCCIH lead epidemiologist. “To address these gaps, we used data from MEPS to identify trends between 1997 and 2014.”

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This page was last updated on Friday, January 21, 2022