MONDAY, Dec. 20, 2021 (HealthDay News) — There was a decrease in nonpharmacologic therapy and an increase in opioid prescription during the COVID-19 pandemic versus 2019, according to a study published online Dec. 10 in JAMA Network Open.

Byungkyu Lee, Ph.D., from Indiana University Bloomington, and colleagues assessed trends in opioid prescription and nonpharmacologic therapy (e.g., physical therapy and complementary medicine) for pain management during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 versus patterns in 2019. The analysis included 21 million patients identified from the Optum deidentified Clinformatics Data Mart Database.

The researchers found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of patients receiving a pain diagnosis was smaller than that for the same period in 2019 (mean difference, −15.9 percent). During the pandemic, patients with pain were more likely to receive opioids (mean difference, 3.5 percent) and less likely to receive nonpharmacologic therapy (mean difference, −6.0 percent), while opioid prescriptions were longer and more potent (mean difference, 1.07 days and 0.96 morphine milligram equivalents, respectively) than during 2019. Furthermore, patients were more likely to transition out of nonpharmacologic therapy, replacing it with opioid prescriptions for pain management during the pandemic than in the prior year.

“These findings suggest that progress toward reversing the opioid epidemic may have been stalled by the pandemic as practitioners resorted to higher levels of opioid prescribing to control pain in the absence of less risky alternatives,” the authors write.

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