Opioid prescriptions for chronic pain surged during the COVID-19 pandemic as utilization of physical therapy — a low-risk alternative treatment for pain management — declined, according to a study published in December 2021 in JAMA Network Open.

To examine shifts in treatment of chronic pain, researchers looked at private health insurance claims data for more than 24 million Americans. They focused on three distinct phases of the pandemic in 2020: the prepandemic period, before a national emergency was declared on March 13; the early pandemic period, with widespread stay-at-home orders, that ran through July 4; and a late pandemic period, after life opened up again in many places, that extended through September 30. They compared the prevalence of pain diagnoses and treatments in each of these three pandemic periods of 2020 with the same timespans in 2019.

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