Background: The use of chronic opioid therapy (COT) has risen dramatically in recent years, especially among women. However, little is known about factors influencing overall pain and function (global pain status) among COT users. Characterizing the typical experiences of COT patients by age-sex group could help clinicians and patients better weigh the risks and benefits of COT. Thus, we sought to characterize global pain status among COT users in community practice by age and sex.
Methods: Telephone survey of 2,163 health plan members aged 21-80 years using COT. We assessed average/usual pain (0-10 scale); pain-related interference (0-10); activity limitation days, last 3 months; and pain impact, last 2 weeks (0-11). Status on each indicator was classified as low (better pain/function), moderate, or high (worse pain/function). Global pain status was categorized as favorable if 2-4 indicators were low and 0-1 was high and unfavorable if 2-4 indicators were high and 0-1 was low.
Results: Among female COT patients, 15% (vs. 26% of males) had favorable global pain status and 59% (vs. 42% of males) had unfavorable status. Under age 65 years, women fared more poorly than men on every indicator. Among 65- to 80-year-olds, women and men had similar global pain status.
Conclusions: Although pain and function among COT users vary considerably, only one in five reported low pain levels and high levels of function. Young and middle-aged women seem to be at particularly high risk for unfavorable global pain status. More research is needed about how to best manage pain in this group.