It turns out opioids are no better than regular painkillers for alleviating the effects of chronic back, knee, and hip pain, at least according to a new study.
America has a massive opioid addiction crisis, so much so that health experts and the general public are divided on how best to cure addiction sufferers. Doctors have long assumed that opioids are powerful painkillers for chronic pain — but maybe not as powerful as they thought.
Study Says Opioids No Better Than Painkillers In Treating Pain
The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association on March 6, is one of the first research that compares opioids the likes of oxycodone and morphine to household painkillers such as acetaminophen.
The researchers found that, after a year of study, the opioids weren't any better at diminishing chronic pain related to day-to-day functioning, such as sleeping and working. In fact, they were a little bit inferior at managing the intensity of pain. Plus the patients said they experienced more side effects under opioids than common painkillers.
The study might question the benefits of using opioids when painkillers may be able to do the job on their own. It also runs contrary to years of medical culture in the United States, where health professionals have prescribed opioids to millions of patients for chronic pain despite their known risks, particularly because they can be addictive.
Erin Krebs, along with colleagues at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, assigned 240 chronic pain patients with either opioids or nonopioid drugs. The average age was 58, and most of them were men. After a year passed, 60 percent of patients in either group claimed they had huge improvements in doing typical functions without pain occurring.
However, in the opioid group, only 41 percent said pain intensity improved. Meanwhile, it was 54 percent in the nonopioid group. What's more, those under opioids experienced twice as many as side effects than those under nonopioids, according to the study.
"This study shows that extra risk doesn't come with any extra benefit," said Krebs, as Reuters reports.
America's Opioid Crisis
The opioid crisis shows no sign of calming down. Since 1999, opioid deaths have more than quadrupled, according to numbers by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, more than six in 10 causes of deaths by drug overdose root from opioids.
In light of America's pernicious opioid addiction crisis, the CDC has urged physicians to prescribe them only as a last resort. They encourage them to discuss the benefits of therapy and exercise or prescribe far less dangerous drugs.