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More upstaters opting for opioids, surgery for back pain

More upstate New Yorkers with back pain are undergoing surgery and taking prescription medication such as opiate painkillers even though noninvasive treatments such as simple exercises and over-the-counter drugs usually work, according to a Univera Healthcare report released this week.

“We need to change our thinking when it comes to back pain,” Dr. Richard Vienne, Univera Healthcare vice president and chief medical officer, said in a news release. “If patients receive the wrong care at the wrong time, it could actually lead to worse outcomes.”

More than 80 percent of upstate New York adults will experience low back pain at some point, nearly two-thirds will experience neck pain, and some will endure chronic suffering. Treatment can be costly, particularly when it comes to surgery.

• In 2013, 626,000 upstate New York adults ages 18 and older received back and/or neck pain care that added nearly $1 billion to health care costs upstate. About 36 percent of that amount was spent on surgery, 32.2 percent on diagnostic services and physician visits, and 32.9 percent on nonsurgical interventions.

• Surgeries for back pain among upstate New York adults grew 10 percent from 2010 to 2013.

• There was nearly a 14 percent increase in spine patients prescribed a medication within the first six weeks of diagnosis during the same time frame. In 2013, almost half of patients treated for spine pain received a prescription for medication within the first six weeks of diagnosis. More than half were prescribed medications for an opiate.

“We are aware of the issues related to increased opiate use and abuse in both Orleans and Genesee counties,” said Paul Pettit, public health director in both counties. “It is important for those who are experiencing back pain to talk with their primary care providers about minimal treatment which may include rest, physical therapy and over-the-counter medications and to follow their advice.”