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New Study Shows Opioid Prescriptions Higher in People with MS

January 27, 2023

A published study reports that prescribed opioid use among 2,918 people in Canada with MS was significantly higher than among 14,539 people without MS. Opioids are derived from, or mimic, natural substances found in the opium poppy plant, and prolonged use or misuse can lead to physical dependence and/or substance use disorder. Routine use of opioids can have negative consequences, such as breathing difficulties, risk of overdose, and death, and they haven’t been shown to be effective in treating MS-related pain. This study highlights the need for better strategies that can relieve pain for people with MS. Learn more below.  
  • Background: Pain is common in people with MS and can reduce quality of life. Opioid pain relievers might be prescribed to people with MS who experience pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends opioid pain medications be used only when other therapies are not effective.
  • This Study: A team from the University of Manitoba identified 2,918 people with MS and 14,539 people without MS by reviewing health claims. They compared how often and for how long opioids were prescribed by healthcare providers in these groups. They also looked at whether having a mood or anxiety disorder was related to prescription opioid use.
  • Results: Prescription opioid use was significantly higher in the group of people with MS than in people without MS. Use was most common in people who were 65 and older. People with MS also tended to stay on prescription opioids for a longer time. In both groups, staying on prescription opioids for a longer time was associated with having a mood or anxiety disorder.
  • The Meaning: This study is a reminder that pain is commonly experienced by people living with MS, and shows that potentially harmful opioids are prescribed more often and used longer in people with MS than in people without MS. The authors note that these results are concerning and highlight a pressing need for alternative strategies to manage pain in people with MS.
Learn more… Prescription opioid use in multiple sclerosis,” by Ruth Ann Marrie, John D Fisk, Randy Walld, James M Bolton, Jitender Sareen, Scott B Patten, Alexander Singer, Lisa M Lix, Carol A Hitchon, Renée El-Gabalawy, Alan Katz, James J Marriott, Charles N Bernstein, was published in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (February 2023 Vol 94 No 2).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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