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Gender Gap in Pain Treatment? Women With Chronic Pain May Get Less Relief from Opioids

LeResche L, Saunders K, Dublin S, Thielke S, Merrill JO, Shortreed SM, Campbell C, Von Korff MR. Sex and Age Differences in Global Pain Status Among Patients Using Opioids Long Term for Chronic Noncancer Pain. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2015 Aug;24(8):629-35. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2015.5222. Epub 2015 Jul 8.

Opioid analgesics are frequently used in cancer patients who have pain. However, the use of these powerful painkillers is more controversial in the treatment of chronic pain in people who have pain for reasons other than cancer. Nevertheless, the use of chronic opioid therapy for non-cancer pain has increased substantially, particularly among women, despite the fact that little is known about what patients may benefit most, or least, from it. In this particular study, investigators found that women receiving chronic opioid therapy were less likely to report a favorable pain response as compared with men receiving opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. The study was based on a telephone survey of more than 2,100 members of a health plan. The survey was designed to help characterize the typical experiences of patients on chronic opioid therapy. Investigators found that only 15% of the female patients on chronic opioid therapy had a favorable pain status, versus 26% of males. Conversely, 59% of women had an unfavorable pain status, versus just 42% of males. The researchers said that characterizing the typical experiences of patients on chronic opioid therapy by age and sex might help clinicians and patients alike better evaluate the potential risks and benefits of starting such a treatment.