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Prescriptions opioids are no better at easing chronic pain than over-the-counter drugs, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers found that patients with backaches or hip or knee arthritis experienced slightly less pain relief while on opioids.
The opioids tested in the yearlong study included generic Vicodin, oxycodone or fentanyl patches. Researchers also looked at nonopioids variants such as generic Tylenol, ibuprofen and prescription pills for nerve or muscle pain.
The study included a randomized trial of 240 patients recruited from Veterans Affairs primary care clinics. Researchers split the participants into two groups, with the first group being assigned to take opioids while the other group was given common medications or prescription drugs.
Erin Krebs, of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System and lead author of the study, said that, by the end of the year, there was no difference between the two groups in terms of pain management.
“And over time, the nonopioid group had less pain intensity, and the opioid group had more side effects such as constipation, fatigue, and nausea,” Krebs said.
According to Krebs, this all comes down to opioid tolerance. The first batch of medications one takes requires them to follow up with concentrated amounts of the drug to have the same level of effect on the body. This is one of the reasons why opioids come with an increased risk of addiction and overdose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were about 42 thousand drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 involving opioid as well as prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.
Krebs pointed to previous studies which showed that physical therapy, exercise, or rehabilitation therapy are the most effective ways for easing chronic pain.
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