Experts say a troubling percentage of long-COVID patients are using opioids to address the myriad of symptoms that can impact one’s health for months after a diagnosis. In a recent study, High-dimensional characterization of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, Veterans Affairs St. Louis HealthCare System’s Ziyad Al-Aly, Yan Xie and Benjamin Bowe detail opioid prescribing patterns at veterans’ health administration facilities and report that, for every 1,000 patients treated for long-COVID, physicians wrote nine more prescriptions for the painkillers than they would have otherwise.
The novelty of long-COVID makes it challenging for clinicians to manage lingering symptoms, which, according to Al-Aly, Xie and Bowe, include respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, nervous system diseases, metabolic disorders, mental health burdens, poor wellbeing and gastrointestinal abnormalities. But, says Brandeis University’s Andrew Kolodny, the trend indicates many clinicians still don’t understand the danger associated with prescribing highly addictive medications and “are under the false impression that opioids are appropriate for chronic pain patients.”
Al-Aly calls on physicians to act immediately before it’s too late. “We do not want this to balloon into a suicide crisis or another opioid epidemic,” he says. Greg Martin, of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, echoes Al-Aly’s sentiment and explains, “Doctors should recognize that pain can be a part of long COVID. We need to find the proper non-narcotic treatment for it, just like we do with other forms of chronic pain.”
MLMIC encourages policyholders to familiarize themselves with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nonopioid Treatments for Chronic Pain fact sheet, a resource with alternative pain management therapies including physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, anti-seizure drugs and more.
Further, as part of our ongoing efforts to provide our insureds with strategies that address opioid use, we offer Risk Management Tips that are beneficial in formulating a plan and documenting the care and treatment of these complex patients: