Illicit Substance Use in US Adults with Chronic Low Back Pain

Anna Shmagel, Erin Krebs, Kristine Ensrud, Robert Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Study Design. A population-based cross-sectional survey. Objective. The aim of this study was to compare the prevalence of illicit drug use among US adults with and without chronic low back pain (cLBP). Summary of Background Data. Although addictive medications, such as opioids and benzodiazepines, are frequently prescribed to patients with cLBP, little is known about illicit drug use among Americans with cLBP. Methods. We used data from the back pain survey, administered to a representative sample of US adults aged 20 to 69 years (N = 5103) during the 2009 to 2010 cycle of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Participants with pain in the area between the lower posterior margin of the ribcage and the horizontal gluteal fold for at least 3 months were classified as having cLBP (N = 700). The drug use questionnaire was self-administered in a private setting, and included data on lifetime and current use of marijuana or hashish, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Chi-square tests, one-way analysis of variance, and logistic regression, adjusted for age, gender, race, and level of education, were used for comparisons. Results. About 46.5% of US adults with cLBP used marijuana versus 42% of those without cLBP [Adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 1.36, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.06-1.74]. About 22% versus 14% used cocaine (aOR 1.80, 95% CI 1.45-2.24), 9% versus 5% used methamphetamine (aOR 2.03, 95% CI 1.30-3.16), and 5% versus 2% used heroin (aOR 2.43, 95% CI 1.44-4.11). Subjects with cLBP who reported lifetime illicit drug use were more likely to have an active prescription for opioid analgesics than those without illicit drug use history: 22.5% versus 15.3%, P = 0.018. Conclusion. cLBP in community-based US adults was associated with higher odds of using marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Prescription opioid analgesic use was more common in cLBP sufferers with a history of illicit drug use. Level of Evidence: 2

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1372-1377
Number of pages6
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Institutes of Health T32 grant, Award Number 5T32DK007784-15, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Award Number UL1TR000114 funds were received in support of this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2016 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.


  • chronic pain
  • cocaine
  • epidemiology
  • heroin
  • illicit drugs
  • low back pain
  • marijuana


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