A lack of understanding of these two devastating and chronic conditions, and a dramatic increase in the prescribing of medications for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, has led to what the CDC calls an overdose epidemic. Sadly, every overdose death is preventable with treatment.

Approximately 30 percent of patients prescribed prescription opioids will exhibit serious problematic or aberrant drug taking behaviors, including frank addiction. Although the development of addiction can occur in anyone taking prescription pain medications, the risk appears to increase for those with a history of addiction and mental health problems.

"Approximately 30 percent of patients prescribed prescription opioids will exhibit serious problematic or aberrant drug taking behaviors, including frank addiction."

Chronic non-cancer pain is common. In most surveys at least 20 percent of respondents report the presence of pain lasting longer than 6 months, and interfering with their quality of life.

There are a variety of non-opioid pain medications and non-medication based therapies such as physical therapy, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc., which can be effective.

Chronic pain also occurs in patients who are addicted, but at a much higher rate estimated at 50 percent or more.

How to treat it

People who are opioid addicted and also have chronic pain, must be treated for both conditions simultaneously. If the addiction is not treated, there will likely be difficulty in the pain management. If chronic pain is not treated, it will likely lead to relapse of the addiction and potentially death. In response to these serious and complicated issues, the FDA has mandated free Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy courses to educate prescribers on the safe and appropriate prescribing of extended release and long acting opioid pain medications.

Multidisciplinary programs, treating both pain and addiction, have shown positive outcomes. The team consists of an addiction specialist, a pain specialist, psychiatrists and psychologists, physical therapists and other providers.

Unfortunately, the number of these programs is limited and insurance coverage can be a challenge. Educating medical professionals to manage the vexing conditions of pain and addiction is the only way to grow a workforce capable of reversing pain related opioid deaths.