Opioids no better than common painkillers in chronic pain, study find

Opioids no better than common painkillers in chronic pain, study find

Some people swear by opioids - it's the only thing that helps them get through the day, they'll argue.

Opioid medications were not better than nonopioid treatment to improve chronic back, hip or knee pain, according to medical research conducted at Veterans Affairs clinics in Minnesota. Articles about the study include headlines like "Opioids no better than Tylenol for treating chronic pain, study finds" and "Prescription opioids fail rigorous new test for chronic pain". After the recruitment phase, the researchers randomly assigned 240 patients to receive opioids or NSAIDs to manage pain for 12 months. He then followed them for up to a year.

One group was given strictly opioids commonly prescribed in the form of immediate-release morphine, oxycodone or hydrocodone-acetaminophen. If the prescription didn't work, it would be changed, selecting from drugs that had been shortlisted. The participants told the researchers how bad their pain was and how it was affecting their lives over the course of a year.

Both the doctors and the patients knew their group assignment, since a patient's expectation can influence how effective the drugs are, with a placebo-like effect.

The results likely will surprise many people "because opioids have this reputation as being really powerful painkillers, and that is not what we found", Krebs said.

Except this wasn't the case: although patients were expecting opioids to be more effective, they weren't.

Measures of how pain interfered with things like work, sleep, mood and general enjoyment of life were almost identical in both groups.

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Changes in the level of pain were asked and measured through a "Brief Pain Inventory Interference Scale" or BPI severity scale.

"We already knew opioids were more risky than other treatment options, because they put people at risk for accidental death and addiction", Krebs told Reuters.

Researchers didn't assess why this happens, though Krebs suspects it's because in time, the body tends to build up a resistance to opioids.

So let's break down the study (you can read it here).

"There was no significant difference in pain-related function between the two groups over 12 months", researchers reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study concluded that prescription opioids were "not superior" to treatment with OTC medications like acetaminophen in improving pain-related function over the period of a year, saying the results do not support prescription of opioid medications for moderate to severe back pain, or hip/knee osteoarthritis pain. About two-thirds of them had back pain, and the rest had osteoarthritis pain in their knees and hips.

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