Millennials less likely to take pain medicine

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A survey by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) has found that many millennials are already experiencing acute and chronic pain, but that they are half as likely as baby boomers to turn to painkillers to manage pain – instead opting to make lifestyle changes.


Chronic and acute pain

Lifestyle habits including the use of technology (leading to eye, neck, arm and hand strain) and sports injuries play a role in generating the acute and chronic pain which millennials (age 18–36) experience, according to the results of a nationwide survey by the ASA.

Three-quarters of millennials say they have experienced acute pain (which comes on suddenly and lasts less than three months) and nearly 60% have had chronic pain (which lasts longer than three months).

According to the survey findings, millennials and generation X (aged 37–52) are most likely to report that pain interfered with their work responsibilities, parenting abilities and participation in family activities. 


Generational difference

Although pain is impacting on their quality of life, rather than reaching for the painkillers, millennials are increasingly choosing lifestyle changes for pain management, such as better eating, quitting smoking and losing weight, according to the findings.

Surprisingly, the results show that baby boomers (age 53–71) are two times more likely than millennials to use opioids to treat pain, and that both baby boomers and the silent generation (age 72–92) are more likely to choose over-the-counter drugs. When millennials did report using opioids, 20% regretted that they had used the highly addictive painkillers, the survey found.


Prescription and disposal

Although the results seem to show millennials shunning painkillers, they also reveal another story in relation to the acquiring of opioids. Although there was comparatively less opioid use, millennials were found to be more likely to obtain them ‘inappropriately’, with 10% obtaining opioids through another household member’s prescription. This compares with 3% of generation X, 1% of baby boomers and 0% of the silent generation.

It was also found that millennials were more likely be unconcerned about taking opioids without a prescription. Nearly 30% of millennials thought it was okay to take an opioid without a prescription, compared to 20% of generation X, 12% of baby boomers and 3% of the silent generation.

Researchers also found a knowledge gap in relation to unused opioids. Twenty per cent of millennials said they did not know the best way to dispose of opioids, and only 37% were aware that options for safe drug disposal in the US include the centres at the local police station, the hospital pharmacy or the local drug store.


The advice

“It’s encouraging that millennials see the value of opting for safer and often more effective methods of managing pain”, said ASA president Jeffrey Plagenhoef. “But clearly they are in need of further education when it comes to opioids and chronic pain, because using the drugs initially to treat pain can turn into a lifelong struggle with addiction.”

While experts recommend that those experiencing acute or chronic pain see a pain management specialist, they also agree with the millennials in the survey: that lifestyle changes can help.

Engaging in lifestyle changes before chronic pain “can gain a further foothold” is preferable to using painkillers, they said, adding that when possible, prevention is best. “Chronic pain does not have to be an automatic response to ageing”, said Dr Plagenhoef.

“Healthy lifestyle changes such as exercising, proper nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight can keep millennials from dealing with some of the chronic pain their parents and grandparents are experiencing.” 

Key advice to all generations includes: take a break from devices and gaming; use devices at eye level; use the talk-to-text features; ease into exercise to avoid injury; avoid being sedentary; engage in healthy lifestyle changes before pain sets in; participate in low-impact aerobic and strength training exercise; maintain a healthy weight and balanced diet; and, if needed, take and dispose of opioids responsibly.

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