Opioids May Not Be the Best Medicine for Chronic Back, Joint Pain

Opiod users report more medication-related side effects

Opioids May Not Be the Best Medicine for Chronic Back, Joint Pain

A new study shows that opioid pain medications are no more effective than non-opioids when it comes to treating chronic pain.

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The study, which was published recently in the journal JAMA, examined 240 patients with moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain. One group of patients was given opioid pain medications; the other group was given non-opioid pain medications to relieve their pain.

Both groups then were assessed based on how much their pain interfered with daily activities such as walking, work or sleep.

Researchers found that after 12 months of treatment, the group of patients who took the opioid pain medication were not functioning any better than those who treated their pain with the non-opioid pain relievers.

In addition to not having better pain relief, the people who took the opioids reported suffering from more medication-related side effects.

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Medicine is a small part of treating pain

The research shows that opioids are not the only way to treat chronic pain, says pain management specialist Robert B. Bolash, MD.  He did not take part in the study.

“We have so many treatments for patients with chronic and acute pain. Medications are just one small piece of it, and opioids are even one smaller piece of that,” he says.

Because of the risks associated with opioid use, such as constipation, slowed breathing, or the possibility of addiction, it’s important to look at other options first before turning to opioids for any sort of pain relief, Dr. Bolash says.

“This study shows that opioid pain medications were equal in effectiveness to other pain medications, including oral adjuvant medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, topical agents or acetaminophen-type pain relievers,” Dr. Bolash says. “We can achieve these outcomes without compromising pain relief.”

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Dr. Bolash said treating chronic pain, is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so it’s important for each person to consult a doctor for an individualized plan that works right for them.

“We always want to select the type of medications for our patients that have the greatest benefit with the least amount of side effects,” he says.

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA.

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