New Study Says Painkillers Might Not Be Best Treatment for Chronic Pain

By Victoria Kim 01/20/15

Approximately five to eight million people in the U.S. use narcotic prescription drugs to manage long-term pain.

Woman In Chronic Pain

Prescription painkillers may not be the most effective treatment for chronic pain, according to a new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

There is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of long-term opioid therapy for improving chronic pain, as the authors found no study of opioid therapy versus placebo that evaluated long-term outcomes related to pain, function, or quality of life.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these drugs are approved on the basis of short-term trials,” said Dr. Roger Chou, associate professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at the Oregon Health & Science University.

Chronic pain is defined as pain and discomfort that lasts for longer than three months and does not improve in the time period it’s expected to, limiting a person’s activities and quality of life.

There were approximately 17,000 overdose deaths involving opioids in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 2000 to 2010, the number of hospitalizations for addiction to narcotic prescription painkillers increased over fourfold to more than 160,000 annually.

About five to eight million patients use narcotic prescription painkillers to manage chronic pain in the United States.

“While they can help in the short run, there aren’t real studies showing they work past three or six months,” Dr. David Agus told CBS This Morning. “The studies just haven’t been done, so we’re kind of flying blind in the medical world. We’ve got to pool resources for research, do the right long-term studies and figure out a new way here because we are all suffering.”

Agus said doctors are prescribing without a lot of training, as there are currently no set guidelines that indicate what dosage of drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet a patient with certain conditions should receive.

“Physicians have little training in how to manage patients with chronic pain and appropriately prescribe medications for them,” the authors wrote

The authors recommend individualized benefit-risk assessments in determining long-term opioid therapy, and consideration of alternative, non-opioid therapies such as physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and alternative medicine approaches with proven efficacy. A dose-dependent regimen is a better approach, focusing on treating the whole person and not merely the pain condition, the authors concluded.

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