Pain States, the Opioid Epidemic, and the Role of Radiologists

  • Mark R. Jones
  • Alan D. Kaye
  • Laxmaiah Manchikanti
  • Joshua A. Hirsch
Other Pain (A Kaye and N Vadivelu, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Other Pain


Purpose of Review

The prevalence of chronic pain and prescription opioid abuse has resulted in epidemic problems for patients and clinicians. The consequences are taking a heavy toll on patients, physicians, and society. Specific to radiology, a significant need exists for best practice assessment and treatment approaches for pain management, as patients with chronic pain often undergo radiological tests of unclear clinical relevance.

Recent Findings

The USA is amid an opioid-prescribing epidemic and resultant overdose public health emergency. A variety of reasons, which are examined in this manuscript, have contributed to the dramatic increase in the use of chronic opioid therapy for chronic non-cancer pain. This increase of opioid prescriptions and related deaths is based on many factors including the perception that there was systemic undertreatment of pain, the philosophical approach of advocacy groups for pain relief, promotion by the pharmaceutical industry, Joint Commission’s Fifth Vital Sign, and permissive regulations by boards of medical licensures promoting excessive use of opioids. Overall, opioid treatment has been based on subjective pain relief and radiographic findings, which may not correlate with the source of pain generation.


Radiologists, along with interventionalists, frequently interact with patients on chronic opioid therapy and at times take responsibility for patients with chronic pain. Beyond reading studies, diagnostic radiologists provide care to larger percentages of patients taking narcotics than ever before. This manuscript focuses on chronic pain, escalating opioid therapy, and adverse consequences, including the epidemic of overdoses and deaths. Radiologists’ expertise can potentially reduce unnecessary radiological tests and inappropriate prescribing of medications.


Opioids Radiology Back pain Chronic pain Imaging 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Mark R. Jones declares no conflict of interest. Alan D. Kaye is a speaker for Depomed, Inc. and Merck, Inc.; Laxmaiah Manchikanti has provided limited consulting services to Semnur Pharmaceuticals, Incorporated, which is developing non-particulate steroids. Joshua A. Hirsch is a consultant for Medtronic.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark R. Jones
    • 1
  • Alan D. Kaye
    • 2
  • Laxmaiah Manchikanti
    • 3
    • 4
  • Joshua A. Hirsch
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Anesthesiology, Beth Israel HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnesthesiaLSU Health Science CenterNew OrleansUSA
  3. 3.Pain Management Center of PaducahPaducahUSA
  4. 4.Anesthesiology and Perioperative MedicineUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  5. 5.Department of RadiologyMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA
  6. 6.Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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