Opioids are likely going to be in the news for a long time to come and the news is never good. A recent study found that opioids are not much better for chronic pain as a placebo. I have written on this before because there have been numerous studies published looking into the effectiveness of opioid drugs. This study was a summary of those studies or a systemic review of the data already published.
The authors of this recent study searched and found 96 studies involving 26,169 participants. In a systemic review the authors look at each study and throw out the “bad” ones and look at data only from studies which meet their inclusion criteria. What they define as “bad” is included in their study. In this case they were primarily looking for studies involving patients with non-cancerous chronic pain who where treated with opioids compared to a group of patients with non-cancerous chronic pain who were treated with a placebo. The non-cancerous chronic pain part is important because it is in the treating of patient with chronic pain due to cancer that the evidence shows opioids are an appropriate treatment. There are not many options to treat a patient with chronic pain due to cancer but opioids.
In looking into the data, these authors found that treating patient who have non-cancerous chronic pain with opioids yields only a small benefit over placebo in both pain and functioning. When weighing the risks and side effects that go along with taking an opioid for non-cancerous chronic pain the math does not add up. Your pain might improve but you will have other problems to deal with. Ultimately what this comes down to is what is your risk vs reward. What this evidence shows is when the benefit you get from taking an opioid to treat non-cancerous chronic pain might not be worth the side effects. There might be other options that are better than opioids for chronic pain.
When it comes to treating pain the best options is rarely going to be medication. This is because the medication only masks the pain. An opioid binds with the opiate receptors on our cells and results in the cells to stop sending pain signals to the brain. These drugs don’t heal the damaged tissue and end the cause of the pain. Common side effects of opioids include nasuea, confusion, and depression. It does not take long to develop a tolerance for opioids which leads to taking stronger dosages. Studies have shown it only takes about a 10 day prescription to develop a dependency on them. When we look at the risk/reward for taking opioids as a way to manage chronic pain there is clearly more to loose than gain.