PURPOSE: No reference material exists on the scope of long-term problems in novel spinal pain opioid users. In this study, we evaluate the prevalence and long-term use of prescribed opioids in patients of the Spinal Pain Opioid Cohort.
METHODS: The setting was an outpatient healthcare entity (Spine Center). Prospective variables include demographics, clinical data collected in SpineData, and The Danish National Prescription Registry. Patients with a new spinal pain episode lasting for more than two months, aged between 18 and 65 years, who had their first outpatient visit. Based on the prescription of opioids from 4 years before the first spine center visit to 5 years after, six or more opioid prescriptions in a single 1-year interval fulfilled the main outcome criteria Long-Term Opioid Therapy (LTOT).
RESULTS: Overall, of 8356 patients included in the cohort, 4409 (53%) had one or more opioid prescriptions in the registered nine years period. Of opioid users, 2261 (27%) were NaiveStarters receiving their first opioid prescription after a new acute pain episode; 2148(26%) PreStarters had previously received opioids. The prevalence of LTOT in PreStarters/NaiveStarters was 17.2%/11.2% in their first outpatient year. Similar differences between groups were seen in all follow-up intervals. In the last follow-up year, LTOT prevalence in Prestarters/NaiveStarters was 12.5%/7.0%.
CONCLUSIONS: Previous opioid treatment-i.e., before a new acute spinal pain episode and referral to a Spine Center-doubled the risk of LTOT 5 years later. The results underscore clinicians' obligation to carefully and individually weigh the benefits against the risks of prescribing opioid therapy.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE I: Diagnostic: individual cross-sectional studies with consistently applied reference standard and blinding.