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It’s been more than a year since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that opioids not be used to treat chronic back pain. Unfortunately, too many prescribers have yet to get the message, according to new data from an NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll. The data, reflecting the experiences of 3,002 patients participating in a telephone survey, show that 40% of the visits to a doctor for low back pain ended with a prescription for a pain medication. Some of those were for opioids, which have been shown to be of little help with back pain but can be addictive in many patients. The problem is that many consumers assume they need those narcotics to alleviate their pain, when in fact guidelines recommend nonsteroidal medications and exercise instead. With urgent care being a frequent destination for people seeking relief, awareness of and adherence to guidelines is especially important in this setting. Clinicians who continue to prescribe opioid pain medications for patients with chronic back pain are doing them a disservice, even if those patients come in specifically to ask for a prescription. Those patients are becoming a minority, however, according to the poll; 55% of those participating said they’ve treated the back pain themselves using nondrug remedies like heat and massage, without going to a doctor at all.

There Are Still Too Many Prescriptions for Low Back Pain