Jury’s In: Opioids Are Not Better Than Other Medicines For Chronic Pain

Kaiser Health News – For many people with chronic pain, opioids can seem like the difference between a full life or one lived in agony. Over the past few decades, they have become go-to drugs for acute pain, but Dr. Erin Krebs, with the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System and the University of Minnesota, said research about the effectiveness of opioids for chronic pain was lacking. Even though millions of people take the drugs for long periods of time, there is little evidence to support that use.…

But that’s changing. Krebs is the lead author of a new study that looks at the effectiveness of opioids for treating chronic pain over 12 months published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study involved 240 veterans with chronic back pain or osteoarthritis of the knee or hip who had pain that was ongoing and intense. Half were treated with opioids and half with non-opioid medications — either common over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen or naproxen, or prescription drugs like topical lidocaine or meloxicam. Doctors and patients knew what group they were in, said Krebs, and that was deliberate because people’s expectations can influence how they feel.

“We found at the beginning of the study that patients who were enrolled really thought that opioids were far more effective than non-opioid medications,” she said.

But after as little as six months, the non-opioid group reported their pain was slightly less severe than the opioid group’s collective assessment. By the end of the year, Krebs said, “there was really no difference between the groups in terms of pain interference with activities. And over time, the non-opioid group had less pain intensity, and the opioid group had more side effects,” such as constipation, fatigue and nausea.

Read more at Kaiser Health News.