Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The rate of opioid use in older patients with osteoarthritis varies wildly state-to-state, new research says, suggesting regional approaches are needed to make use safer.
More than 26 percent of osteoarthritis patients in Alabama have become long-term opioid users compared to only 8.9 percent of patients in Minnesota, according to a study published Monday in Arthritis & Rheumatology.
The researchers found that one in six patients took prescription opioids for longer than 90 days to manage pain in the year leading up to total joint replacement. The average patient used opioids for about seven months.
Also, 20 percent of the long-term users took an average daily dose of 50 morphine milligram equivalents, which experts say can lead to high risk of opioid-related damage.
The frequency of access for a patient with osteoarthritis to doctors didn't seem to contribute to the problem of long-term opioid use.
In fact, the difference in long-term use was 1.4 percent within the states with the highest and lowest density of primary care providers, the study says.
Despite the widespread use of these drugs, some research has shown that opioids don't work much better than placebo in managing pain related to osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and sciatica.
"These findings suggest that regional prescribing practices are key determinants of prescription opioid use in chronic pain patients, and geographically targeted dissemination strategies for safe opioid prescribing guidelines may be required to address the high use observed in certain states," Dr. Rishi Desai, a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a press release.