Researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia are pioneering opioid-free treatments for those living with chronic pain

Monday, 24 July 2017: Following reports of an increase in accidental overdose from prescription opioids, researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), Dr James McAuley and Dr Sylvia Gustin, have highlighted that this does not need to be the case identifying advances in drug-free treatments for chronic pain.

In a release published by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) today analysing data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), it was reported that the rate of accidental deaths due to opioids is increasing and has more than doubled since 2007 among Australians aged 35 to 44.

The NDARC report showed in 2013, just under 600 Australians between the ages of 15 and 54 died from accidental overdoses of opioids with the majority of these (70%) being due to opioids other than heroin, including strong prescription painkillers.

Previous research by NeuRA’s Dr James McAuley identified a high prescription rate with almost 20% (19.6%) of patients with low back pain were prescribed an opioid by their GP –equivalent to the same amount of which receive education and advice from their GP.

“Despite opioids known side effects, including the development of a tolerance to the drug, opioids continue to be prescribed at high rates for low back pain,” said Dr McAuley.

“Due to developing a tolerance to their prescribed medication, patients are likely to increase their dosage, which may have led to the increase in opioid related deaths.”

Chronic low back pain will develop in around 40% of the four million Australians who experience low back pain. Despite the availability of pain medications and other pain therapies, an ideal treatment which benefits the majority of sufferers has not been identified and most of the available therapies have significant side effects, or risks of serious adverse events.

“The most common non-drug treatment for low back pain is exercise. Exercise is effective for back pain, however only reduces pain intensity by a small amount,” said Dr McAuley.

“At NeuRA we are interested in developing non-drug alternatives to opioids. Our extensive preliminary work shows these treatments are very effective and we are now studying them in NHMRC funded trials.

“We have also developed a tool which identifies people with a new episode of back pain who are at a high risk of developing chronic pain (MY BACK) so patients can decide with their health practitioner what kind of treatment they should have.”