New Research: Opioids do not Provide Better Relief for Chronic Pain

CLEVELAND – A rise in opioid addictions and opioid-related deaths has widely impacted communities across the U.S.

Now, a new study looks at whether opioid pain medications are more effective than non-opioids when it comes to treating chronic pain.

The study examined 240 patients with moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain.

One group of patients were given opioid pain medications and the other group were given non-opioid pain medications to relieve their pain.

Both groups 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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Cleveland Clinic’s Robert Bolash, M.D., did not take part in the study, but said the research shows that opioids are not the only way to treat chronic pain.

“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 said. “This study shows that opioid pain medications were equal in effectiveness to those things that we can utilize off the shelf from our pharmacies including anti-inflammatory medicines; the NSAID medicines, or acetaminophen-type pain relievers.”

Dr. Bolash said that 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, especially is the relief is comparable and the adverse effects are fewer.

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“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 said. “This study really shows us that we can utilize medications that have very good efficacy, which are very potent, but lack some of those side effects associated with the opioid family of medicines and we can do this without compromising pain relief.” 

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.

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA.