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STUDY: Opioids don't beat other medications for chronic pain

Photo: OIGatHHS / youtube
Photo: OIGatHHS / youtube(WCTV)
Published: Mar. 8, 2018 at 7:11 PM CST
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For years, opioid medications have been a popular method among doctors and patients for treating chronic pain but as cases of opioid addiction and overdose deaths increase, researchers are looking into the effectiveness of these drugs.

A federal research study released this week compared opioid medications like oxycodone and morphine to common painkillers like acetaminophen in patients with chronic back pain and arthritis. A year of treatment showed opioids weren't any better at improving pain related to daily functioning, such as ability to sleep and work, the study found. The study also found opioids slightly fell short of controlling pain intensity, and patients reported more side effects.

In Wisconsin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased 109% from July 2016 to September 2017.

Dr. Sue Cullinan, Medical Director for Emergency Medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire says the research findings don't surprise her. "As a physician, you always want to treat pain, you want to make sure the patient is comfortable but there's many ways to treat that without just jumping to narcotics, says Dr. Cullinan.

Cullinan says while an effective resource for treating pain, opioids are not always the best option. "It’s just an easy thing to do is just to prescribe a pain pill but there are many non-opioid, non-pain medication ways of treating pain."

She says while health professionals take safety precautions such as a database showing patient history before prescribing someone opioids, addiction is still possible. "We've found people just need higher and higher dosages and they just feel that they need their pain treated because that's what they've got their brain kind of molded into thinking," says Dr. Cullinan.

Dr. Cullinan says opioid should only be used for short term pain management and when taken in the right dosages, over-the-counter or non-opioid medications can be extremely effective and should be considered more often.