Study finds opioid painkillers almost useless for back pain

opioid painkillers
Opioids are in the spotlight thanks to a landmark study on the drugs.

Opioid painkillers do little to quell lower-back and osteoarthritis pain and even make symptoms worse in some cases, according to a landmark study on the controversial drug.

The study says opioids may not be the powerful pain relievers we once believed they were, especially when it comes to managing long-term pain.

Researchers from the Minneapolis Veterans Health Care System conducted a randomised controlled trial with long-term follow up comparing opioids with non-opioid medications.

They found that opioids provided no better pain relief for patients with lower-back pain or osteoarthritis than safer, non-opioid medications.

“Opioids are perceived as strong pain relievers, but our data showed no benefits of opioid therapy over non-opioid medication therapy for pain,” study author Dr Erin E. Krebs told medical journal The Back Letter.

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Some patients in the study reported worse pain at the 12-month follow up mark.

“The data do not support opioids’ reputation as ‘powerful painkillers,” said Dr Krebs.

“The results support CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guideline recommendation: that non-opioid medications are preferred for chronic pain.”

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Researchers have shone a harsh light on opioids of late, with figures showing thousands of people are overdosing on the highly addictive drug each year.

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America reported 180,000 deaths related to prescription opioid overdose between 1999 and 2015.

In Australia, 800 people have died from overdosing on opioids since 2014.

Research released by the Penington Institute last year showed that older Aussies are the most likely to suffer an opioid addiction.

The only age group to see a decrease in opioid deaths recently is 15-24 year-olds, with 45-54 year-olds having the highest number of accidental deaths.

The Penington Institute found that if the current trend continues, in five years’ time the people most likely to die of an overdose will be aged 50 to 59.

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Dr Krebs’s findings come off the back of an Australian study that found acupuncture can be just as effective at treating acute lower-back pain, migraine and ankle sprains.

Read more: Study finds acupuncture just as good as pain killers

Do you take opioids? Are you careful with the medications you’re prescribed?