Newswise — There are distinct gender differences underlying the risks for abuse of prescription pain drugs, according to a Harvard study published in The Journal of Pain, the peer review journal of the American Pain Society, and

For the research, 662 chronic non-cancer pain patients who take opioid pain medications were surveyed with standard pain assessment questionnaires to examine rates and characteristics of problematic opioid use, profiles of risk factors for potential misuse, and predictive associations between risk factors and subsequent misuse behavior. The researchers assumed that predictors of misuse would be different in men and women, with misuse among women closely related to psychological distress.

“Since little has been published about gender differences and misuse of prescription pain medication, it is valuable to document whether risk factors for abuse are gender-specific to some degree,” said Robert N. Jamison, PhD, lead author and a clinical psychologist at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “This could help clinicians be more proactive in adopting risk-prevention interventions.”

The results of the study showed that men and women have similar frequencies of aberrant drug behavior, but gender differences were found in risk factors for misuse of opioid medications.

“Our analysis showed that drug misuse by women is motivated more by emotional issues and psychological distress while in men this behavior usually stems from problematic social and behavioral problems that lead to substance abuse,” said Jamison. “Further, women who misuse pain drugs are more likely to admit to being sexually or physically abused or have a history of psychiatric or psychological problems.”

The study recommended that for women being treated with opioids for chronic non-cancer pain with evidence of significant affective stress, clinicians should treat the mood disorder and counsel on the dangers of relying on opioids to reduce stress and improve sleep. For men, closer monitoring of known or suspected behavioral problems, frequent urine screens, pill counts and compliance monitoring are recommended to help reduce risks for drug misuse.

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Journal of Pain (Apr-2010)