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Opioids No Better For Managing Long-Term Pain Than Non-Opioid Analgesics, Says Study

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Opioids No Better For Managing Long-Term Pain Than Non-Opioid Analgesics, Says Study

According to a new study, opioid painkillers do not garner better results than non-opioid medication for the long-term treatment of osteoarthritis and back pain.

The study, which was presented last month at the SGIM Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., was conducted by researchers at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and is thought to be the first complete controlled trial of long-term opioid treatment for chronic pain.

Study author Erin Krebs, MD, Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research:

“This study is pertinent…because opioid therapy is widely prescribed and not as effective as non-opioid pain treatment options.”

For the study, 240 veterans compared opioid treatment to non-opioid medication therapy for one year. Patients treated for hip, knee, or back pain at VA clinics were found via medical records and contacted by telephone to determine eligibility, which was based on the existence of moderate chronic pain despite the use of analgesics.

Patients who consented to participate were given an assessment and randomized to into one of two categories: opioid therapy, or non-opioid therapy. Both treatments were administered using a telecare collaborative management model, with pain medication given for one year. Medications were administered based on patient preferences and adjusted to garner improvement in the patient’s pain and functional goals.

Results were assessed at three, six, nine, and 12 months after enrollment. The primary tool used was the Brief Pain Inventory interference scale, which was used to evaluate pain severity. A checklist was also used to gather a list of adverse symptoms and to assess the side effect of medication.


“We found no significant advantage of opioid therapy compared with non-opioid medication therapy…More patients treated with non-opioid medications had significant improvement in pain…[and more patients] treated with opioid medications had more medication side effects.”

“…our findings support the recent CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendation that non-opioid therapies are preferred over opioids for chronic pain.”

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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