Opioids are intended to treat pain, but they’ve become controversial since they were found to be highly addictive, contributing to hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths in recent years and creating a national opioid epidemic. Now, a new study published in JAMA reveals that the potent painkillers provide little benefit for patients with chronic pain, contrary to popular belief.
The study, led by Jason Busse, an associate professor and researcher at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care, found that compared to placebo, opioids only offered small improvements in pain, physical functioning and sleep quality in patients with chronic pain not caused by cancer. Further, research indicated non-opioid treatments, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), provided similar pain relief benefits as opioids without the potential for abuse and misuse (and thus addiction and overdose) that opioids carry.
“Our results support that opioids should not be first-line therapy for chronic noncancer pain,” Busse said in a statement.
The study consisted of a meta-analysis of 96 clinical trials of prescription opioids for chronic, non-opioid pain, involving more than 26,000 people. In each trial, patients were treated with either an opioid, non-opioid pain killer, or a placebo, and followed for at least one month.
Researchers found that the patients treated with opioids only reported a 12 percent improvement in pain relief, 8 percent improvement in physical functioning, and 6 percent improvement in sleep quality compared to patients taking a placebo. “These are very modest effects,” Busse said.
The study provides more ammunition in the fight to curb the opioid crisis, which has cost the United States not only in lives but in economic burdens as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2017 was the deadliest year yet for opioid overdose deaths.
Source: Live Science