Medical treatment for chronic pain can be expensive.
And that’s why the costs of treatments are so high, a new study says.
The study by the nonprofit organization Pain and Health, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, is the first to look at the costs and effectiveness of treatment.
“We are seeing a dramatic decrease in the number of people who are getting pain medication for chronic conditions,” said Dr. Jennifer A. Miller, a professor of medicine and chief of the division of pain medicine at the Penn Medicine Institute of Health Policy and Clinical Practice.
“And we’re seeing that for a variety of reasons, particularly for conditions like cancer, we are seeing patients get less effective medication, and it’s not only in the form of a decrease in quality of life.”
The study examined Medicare prescription drug and drug-induced use of opioids, the most commonly prescribed pain medications in the United States.
It also looked at prescriptions for certain types of medical treatments, including home care, rehabilitation, dental, chiropractic and naturopathic care.
The findings have been published in the journal Pain and Headache.
In the study, Miller and her team surveyed patients in the U.S. who were 65 and older, and their doctors.
In addition to examining the drugs that were prescribed for chronic and pain conditions, they also asked the doctors how often they gave people pain medication.
It turns out, for some people, their doctors are taking more of a percentage of the medication than their patients are.
“So what we found is that patients are not receiving as much pain medication as they could be, and that is an extremely important finding,” Miller said.
“It means that physicians are not getting the best of the medications that they need, and they’re not getting it at the right dosage.”
Painkillers were the most expensive drugs for chronic illnesses, with a median price of $7,834, compared with $2,636 for other types of drugs.
Home care was the most affordable.
It cost $1,891 for chronic care, and $1.09 for home health services, or care that includes home health aides, personal care aides, aides for the elderly, family caregivers, and people who work in home health care.
Home health aides were about 10% of the overall population, but they were almost two-thirds of all chronic care medications.
And the average cost of care was $2.13 per day for those who received care.
Other drugs, such as opioids, were less expensive than home care but still expensive.
Miller said the findings indicate that it’s important to consider pain and chronic illness a chronic condition rather than a chronic disease.
“I would say that it is important to be aware of the impact of your doctor’s prescribing,” Miller told CBS News.
“The amount of pain medication you are taking, the cost of your care, the number and type of drugs that you are using, and what kind of care you are getting, can all impact your quality of health and your quality and effectiveness in getting pain treatment.”
In the future, Miller said she is planning to study whether the prescription drug use of some doctors is also affecting quality of care.
“There are a lot of variables that we haven’t looked at,” she said.
A number of factors have led to this shift.
The rise in prescription drug prices is partly driven by the availability of painkillers and other medical treatments.
The increased use of pain drugs also has led to more people taking medications that are not intended for pain, Miller noted.
“Our results suggest that there is a shift in the way that doctors are prescribing these medications,” she told CBS Health.
The opioid crisis in the country has created a lot more painkiller users, Miller added.
“You’ve seen people going to jail and going to prison because they were abusing opioids,” Miller added, referring to the widespread use of prescription opioids.
“When you have an epidemic like this, you really need to be looking at who is using the drugs and how they’re being used.”
She said the U-shaped curve that is the opioid crisis can be seen across many health conditions, but not all.
“This is a very broad and interesting view, and there’s a lot that we don’t understand about pain, chronic illness, and painkillers,” she explained.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Miller is a member of the National Center for Health Research on Pain and Addiction.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, is also a member.
The report was conducted by Dr. Robert J. Bock, the chair of the Department of Medicine and Psychiatry at the National University of Singapore, and Dr. Ralf B. Schumacher, the professor of preventive medicine at The University of Southern California School of Pharmacy.