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Back Pain Health Center

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ED Tied to Long-Term Narcotic Use in Men

In study, more men on impotence meds were taking opioids for chronic back pain


After adjusting the data to account for other possible factors, including age, the researchers found that men who took opioid pain medications for long periods were about 50 percent more likely to take erectile dysfunction medications or testosterone replacement therapy.

Dr. Daniel Shoskes, a professor of urology at the Cleveland Clinic's Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute, said the study doesn't prove that the pain medications cause the erectile dysfunction.

"A direct association between long-term opioid use and [erectile dysfunction] has not been clearly defined," said Shoskes, who was not involved in the study. "The reason these men were having [erectile dysfunction] could be related to the pain or the things that are causing the pain. You can't conclude from this study that opioid use causes [erectile dysfunction]."

Study author Deyo said there's evidence that men who stop taking opioids after using them for a short time will see an improvement in erectile dysfunction, but he said it's not clear if the same is true after long-term use.

Deyo added that opioids can be effective for short-term use, but there's "growing evidence that long-term opioid use may not be effective for chronic pain. The body compensates for taking long-term pain medications, and changes in the brain and spinal cord may make people more sensitive over time."

Effective alternatives include a tailored exercise program and cognitive behavioral therapy designed to help reduce people's fear of pain, Deyo said.

Shoskes said other factors that contribute to erectile dysfunction include diabetes, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and alcohol use. He said this study may prompt doctors who treat men with chronic pain to ask about erectile dysfunction, although he said it's not clear from this study whether the erectile medications were helpful for these men.

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