Gender Differences Show in Risk of Narcotic Abuse

Male, female patients taking painkillers have different reasons for misuse, researchers find

FRIDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- Men and women have differnet reasons for abusing prescription painkillers, a new study shows.

It included 662 non-cancer patients with chronic pain who took opioid painkillers, a group of narcotics that includes morphine, codeine, fentanyl and oxycodone. The researchers examined the rates and characteristics of opioid abuse among the patients, profiles of risk factors for potential abuse, and how strongly certain risk factors predict painkiller abuse.

Men and women had similar rates of opioid abuse but there were gender differences in risk factors for such abuse, the study found.

"Our analysis showed the drug misuse by women is motivated more by emotional issues and psychological distress while in men this behavior usually stems from problematic social and behavioral problems that lead to substance abuse," study author Robert N. Jamison, a clinical psychologist at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, said in a news release.

"Further, women who misuse pain drugs are more likely to admit to being sexually or physically abused or have a history of psychiatric or psychological problems."

Jamison and colleagues recommended that women who are taking opioids to treat non-cancer chronic pain and show signs of "significant affective stress" should receive treatment for the mood disorder and counseling on the dangers of relying on opioids to reduce stress and improve sleep.

For male patients taking opioids for non-cancer chronic pain, doctors should closely monitor known or suspected behavioral problems, conduct frequent urine screenings, pill counts and compliance monitoring.

The study appears online April 27 in the The Journal of Pain.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about medicines for chronic pain.

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