Korea is not safe from the overuse problem of opioids anymore, a survey showed Tuesday. The pollsters called for the health authorities to control the abuse of narcotic analgesics strictly.
Seoul National University Hospital’s research team, led by Professor Moon Jee-youn at the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, surveyed 258 patients who received prescriptions of narcotic analgesics due to chronic non-cancer pain. The survey took place at six university hospitals from 2017 to 2018.
Korea’s annual consumption of opioids per capita is 55 mg, ranking 43rdd in the world. The figure is significantly lower than the OECD average of 258 mg and that of the U.S. of 678 mg. However, opioids consumption in Korea is the third largest in Asia. Compared to 2005, the volume spiked six folds in 2017.
The research team used seven evaluation items for the survey that could gauge the possibility of dependency on opioids such as taking the drug outside of the prescription, overdose, and frequent loss of prescription.
The result showed that 55 patients, or 21 percent, had a dependence on narcotic analgesics. In other words, one in five patients who chronically receive prescriptions of opioids had a possibility of drug abuse.
The number was not significantly lower than 21-29 percent levels reported in the Western world where opioids consumptions are overwhelmingly large. The survey showed that dependency on narcotic analgesics could occur with similar frequency regardless of the absolute volume of consumption, the SNUH researchers said.
The opioids dependence was notably higher in young patients, those with functional pain, people with head and neck pain, people who abuse alcohol and drug, and in depressed patients. The average daily dose of morphine in patients with narcotic analgesic dependence was about 169mg, 30 percent higher than that of patients without the dependence.
Patients with the dependence also had more visits to the emergency room, frequenting the ER 36 times a year. The number was twice as high as those without the opioids dependence.
Regardless of the drug dependence, patients who have taken narcotic analgesics for a long time showed anxiety, depression, acute insomnia, and significantly low resilience. Sixty-seven percent of them said they thought about suicide due to severe pain.
“Although Korean patients’ dependence on narcotic analgesics was 21 percent, similar to that of the west, we need to be careful to interpret this number,” said Moon. “When opioids-taking patients visit the ER to get additional prescriptions, it is necessary first to assess whether they are for actual pain control and treatment of worsening symptoms rather than for correcting the drug use disorder due to dependence on analgesics.”
As the domestic consumption of opioids is expected to increase further, more social attention is needed to evaluate the disorder in the use of narcotic analgesics and to prepare response measures, she noted.
The study was published on the latest issue of Journal of Clinical Medicine.
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