From the Journals

‘Encouraging’ new national data on chronic pain management


Most adults in the United States who have chronic pain favor a combination of nondrug and nonopioid approaches to control their pain, which is “encouraging,” new research shows.

A national survey reveals 55% of adults with chronic pain used pain management techniques that did not involve any opioids at all during the prior 3-month period.

However, few participants took advantage of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is effective for easing chronic pain, Cornelius Groenewald, MB ChB, department of anesthesiology and pain medicine, University of Seattle, and colleagues write.

The results were published online in a research letter Feb. 7 in JAMA Network Open.

First time for pain questions

An estimated 50.2 million U.S. adults experience chronic pain, according to the 2019 National Health Interview Survey.

The 2019 version of the survey included questions on pain management techniques for the first time. Adults with chronic pain were asked to report on their use of 11 pain management techniques during the previous 3 months.

Among the 31,916 survey respondents, 64% were women; 69% were non-Hispanic White, 13% were Hispanic, and 11% were non-Hispanic Black; 71% were between 18 and 64 years of age, and 29% were 65 and older.

Among the key findings, an estimated 55% of adults with chronic pain used only nonopioid pain management techniques, 11% used both opioids and nonopioid techniques, and 4% used only opioids for chronic pain management; 30% did not report any pain management techniques during the previous 3 months.

Complementary therapies were the most commonly used nonopioid pain management technique (by 35% of adults with chronic pain), followed by physical, occupational, or rehabilitative therapies (19%).

Only about 4% of adults with chronic pain used CBT.

Other techniques used included self-management programs (5%) and chronic pain peer support groups (2%). In addition, 39% of adults with chronic pain reported using other pain approaches not specifically captured in the data set.

Benchmark data

Participants using complementary and psychological or psychotherapeutic interventions were more likely to be younger women with more education, the investigators report.

Adults using physical, occupational, or rehabilitative therapy were more likely to be highly educated older women with medical insurance.

Prescription opioid use for chronic pain was more common among older adults aged 45-64 years vs. those aged 18-44 years (19% vs. 8%).

It was also more common in women than men (17% vs. 13%), in adults with vs. without health insurance (16% vs. 6%), and in those with a high school education or lower, compared with those had more than a high school education (17% vs. 14%).

Prescription opioid use was less common among adults making $100,000 or more annually than in those making less than $35,000 a year (9% vs. 20%).

“While effective for some, opioids prescribed for chronic pain management remain an important determinant of the national opioid crisis,” the investigators write.

The study “provides baseline information on opioid and nonopioid pain management techniques used for chronic pain and serves as a benchmark for evaluating the outcome of health care policies aimed at reducing prescription opioid use,” they add.

The study had no specific funding. The investigators have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on

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