WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Many doctors still continue to prescribe opioids as first-line painkillers to back and knee pains.
- Before risks of overdose and addiction were revealed, many medical providers believed that opioids were more effective at relieving pain than other treatments.
- A new study suggests that opioids seem to be no better at treating chronic pain than other medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and lidocaine.
In a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), scientists say opioids are not the better choice as chronic pain treatment compared to non-opioids which are much less addictive.
The study involved 240 patients, participated mostly by middle-aged white males who experienced pain in their backs, knees or hips for at least six months, non-opioid users actually experienced more pain relief than participants treating their pains with morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone.
The scientists, however, noted that the outcome was not statistically significant, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“There was no significant difference in pain-related function between the 2 groups over 12 months,” say the researchers.
There were two groups, opioid and non-opioid group, where participants were randomly assigned. All participants were patients at Minneapolis VA Health Care System. The non-opioid group was given acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The participants were asked to rate their pain severity from a scale of 0 to 10. After a year, patients in the opioid group had an average score of 4.0 while patients in the non-opioid group scored an average of 3.5, according to Reuters.
Over a period of one-year treatment, 41% of those in the opioid group experienced at least a 30% improvement in their pain severity, while 54% of those who weren’t on opioids saw relief.
“Your body gets used to that level of opioid, and you need more and more to get the same level of effect,” study author Erin Krebs told NBC News.
She added that this might explain why opioid users experienced more side effects like constipation, nausea, and fatigue. Since opioids, according to the study, come with no advantage over other over-the-counter pain relievers, Krebs says people with chronic pain just “shouldn’t start opioids” to prevent risks of dependency.