Study: Opioid painkillers do not improve patient health

October 2, 2014

Opioids may relieve pain, but they do not do much to improve the health of patients with back problems, headaches, or fibromyalgia, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

Opioids may relieve pain, but they do not do much to improve the health of patients with back problems, headaches, or fibromyalgia, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

In a new position paper, Gary M. Franklin, MD, MPH, a researcher and professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, said prescribers should seek alternative ways to deal with management for chronic noncancer pain considering the growing problem of overdoses associated with opioid painkillers. According to the paper, opioid overdoses cause more deaths in people 35 to 54 years old than either firearms or motor vehicle accidents.

Non-doctors writing millions of painkiller Rxs

"This is the first position paper by a major American specialty society saying that there is a real problem here and the risk might not be worth the benefit for certain conditions," Franklin told Time.com

 

The new position warns that physicians prescribing opioids need to track patient dose increases, screen for depression or substance abuse, constantly look for signs of misuse, and only continue use of opioids if patient health is improving. Physicians should also use patient treatment agreements that cover the risks of chronic use of these drugs and outline the patient’s responsibilities.

The position paper references a 2003 New England Journal of Medicine study that said despite high levels of opioid prescriptions, people with chronic pain were not improving.

The paper deals with the prescribing of morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, or a combination of those drugs with acetaminophen.

"For 20 years they have been taught that everybody deserves an opiate, because they really don't know what else to do," Dr. Jane Ballantyne, study author, professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington, told Time.com. "It's a cultural thing and it's hard to reverse that.… A lot of chronic pain isn't appropriate for opiates.”