Prescription opioids for chronic pain are ineffective, a year long study shows. In patients with stubborn back aches, hip, or knee arthritis, opioids worked no better than over-the-counter drugs or non-opioids. In addition, prescription opioids did not improve walking or sleeping. And they provided slightly less pain relief.
Prescription Opioids: Which ones were tested
Opioids tested included generic Vicodin, oxycodone and fentanyl patches. Nonopioids included generic Tylenol, ibuprofen, and prescription pills for nerve or muscle pain. The study randomly assigned patients to take opioids or other painkillers. That’s the gold standard design for research.
The results are surprising because opioids have a reputation as being very powerful painkillers.
U.S. government guidelines in 2016 said opioids are not the preferred treatment for chronic pain. They recommended non-drug treatment or non-opioid painkillers instead. Opioids should only be used if other methods don’t work for chronic pain, the guidelines recommend.
Patients started on low daily doses of morphine, oxycodone or generic Vicodin. They switched to higher doses if needed, or switched to long-acting opioids or fentanyl patches. The nonopioid group started on acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or similar anti-inflammatory drugs. They also could switch to higher doses or prescription non-opioid pain pills.
In fact, results from other studies shows that physical therapy, exercise, or rehabilitation therapy works best for chronic pain.
Prescription Opioids: Abuse Is Rampant
About 42,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 involved opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. Moreover, prescription opioids are addictive and many people eventually move to more accessible illicit drugs like heroin.
A report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year. Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent late last summer, compared to the same three-month period in 2016. Increases were nation wide with the biggest increase in the Midwest. The report did not break down overdoses by type of opioid.