Oxycodone pain pills. A new study following patients being treated for chronic pain found that those taking opioid-based pain pills didn't experience less pain than those taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
"Should we use opioids if nonopioids don't work?" asked the lead author, Dr. Erin E. Krebs of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
A new study claims to offer evidence that opioids don't work better than non-opioid pain medication for some types of chronic pain, and patients have a lot to say about it.
"Overall, opioids did not demonstrate any advantage over non opioid medications that could potentially outweigh their greater risk of harms", the researchers wrote.
"Conclusions and Relevance Treatment with opioids was not superior to treatment with nonopioid medications for improving pain-related function over 12 months".
Opioids tested included generic Vicodin, oxycodone or fentanyl patches although few patients needed the most potent opioids. The participants told the researchers how bad their pain was and how it was affecting their lives over the course of a year.
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Let's get this out in the open first for clarity's sake: The study is NOT saying doctor-prescribed opioids aren't effective at treating and improving chronic pain, just that in the specific cases listed in the study prescription opioid options were reported to be no more effective than over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol and ibuprofen for people suffering from specific types of pain. The average age of participants was 58.3 and majority male, with 32 female participants.
After a year of pain treatment, the researchers saw no evidence that opioids were better than the alternatives.
Measures of how pain interfered with things like work, sleep, mood and general enjoyment of life were almost identical in both groups. On the pain scale, the nonopioid group did slightly better - 3.5, compared with 4.0 for the opioid group. Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent late last summer, compared to the same three-month period in 2016.
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.
Patients reported changes in function or pain on questionnaires. Krebs and her team divided 240 Veterans Affairs patients with lower back pain, or with hip or knee pain from osteoarthritis, into two groups.
Unsurprisingly, there were significantly more medication-related symptoms in the opioid group than in those who took Tylenol or NSAIDs, but there was no difference between the groups in adverse outcomes.