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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UGA: Chronic Disease Prevention Important Tool to Curb Opioid Crisis

Preventing chronic disease could help curb the opioid epidemic, according to research from the University of Georgia.

The study is the first to examine the relationship between hospitalizations due to opioid misuse and chronic disease.

“When we look at the opioid crisis, most of the response has been to treat opioid overdose. That’s a good immediate intervention, but in the long run, we need to identify the underlying issues of the epidemic,” said study author Dr. Janani Thapa, who studies chronic disease at University of Georgia College of Public Health.

That should include chronic disease, says Dr. Thapa.

“Chronic disease is associated with pain. Pain is associated with opioid use,” she said. “So, we thought, let’s look at that and put some numbers behind the association.”

One in four U.S. adults are living with at least one chronic disease, and many of these diseases are accompanied with chronic pain.

That’s why Dr. Thapa and her co-authors were particularly interested in the patterns of opioid-related hospitalizations among patients with conditions that were the most likely to be prescribed opioids, including asthma, arthritis, cancer, liver disease, and stroke.

Gathering inpatient data from a national sample of community hospitals, the team looked at the prevalence of chronic disease among patients who had been admitted for an opioid-related injury from 2011 to 2015.

The results showed that over 90 percent of the opioid-related hospitalizations were among patients with two or more chronic diseases.

Dr. Thapa says the public health and healthcare fields need to be aware of the overlap between two of the country’s growing epidemics and prioritize finding alternative, non-addictive strategies to managing the chronic pain.

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