Non-Opioid Painkillers Might Be Just as Effective as Opioid Drugs, Says Study

Non-opioid painkillers are just as effective as the opioid ones according to new research, and that's potentially very good news for battling the nation's opioid epidemic.

PainkillersPeter Kim/ShutterstockThe opioid epidemic has become a national crisis in America, and remarkably, middle-aged women are at particularly high risk of becoming addicted. Some of the stories—like this person’s harrowing experience—are beyond belief. But there’s good news when it comes to battling opioid addiction, according to a new study. Published in JAMA, the new research suggests that non-opioid painkillers for certain types of pain are just as effective as opioid painkillers.

Scientists who conducted the study examined the outcomes of 411 people who came into two emergency rooms in the Bronx, New York for arm or leg strains, sprains, and fractures. The patients were randomly selected to receive either non-opioid painkillers—a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen—or one of three types of opioids. Before getting the painkillers—and then again, after two hours—doctors asked patients to rate pain levels on a scale from one to 11.

Before pain treatment, the patients rated their pain at 8.7 on average. Two hours after getting the pain meds, patients rated the non-opioid relief as second greatest—a drop of 4.3 points on average. The only opioid treatment that did better was an oxycodone-plus-acetaminophen pill—a 4.4-point drop on average, which was essentially the same as the non-opioid relief. The researchers concluded that for severe limb pain, opioids may not be necessary. That’s key when you consider that other recent studies suggest that short-term use of opioids can lead to addiction and that nearly 20 percent of people leave emergency rooms with opioid prescriptions, according to Time.

Although the study only examined relief of short-term pain for arm and leg injuries, the results offer hope that there are ways to cut back on opioid prescriptions. Study author Andrew Chang, MD, professor of emergency medicine at Albany Medical Center, told Time that he wants to extend the study to follow the longer-term impact of non-opioid relievers. Nonetheless, Chang says the study’s results have changed the way he prescribes painkillers: He plans to inform patients of addiction risks and suggest they at least start with non-opioid options.

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