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Taking Opioids May Not Provide Better Function for Chronic Pain

Taking Opioids May Not Provide Better Function for Chronic Pain

A study suggests that opioids may not result in better pain-related function after a year, compared to non-opioid meds.

Chronic pain can be hard to manage, but there are smart ways to deal with it. A randomized clinical trial looked at 240 patients from a VA hospital who had moderate to severe chronic back, hip or knee pain. The researchers divided the group into opioid and NSAID takers. They provided the opioid-taking group with immediate-release morphine, oxycodone or hydrocodone. Their non-opioid group took acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). The researchers found that the opioid medications “did not result in significantly better pain-related function over 12 months” than non-opioid medications.

But there’s one thing the study didn’t mention: While there are complications and a potential risk for addiction from opioids, NSAIDs aren’t without long-term problems. For example, taking NSAIDs for more than two weeks can cause intestinal bleeding, fecal incontinence, headaches and elevated blood pressure. High-dose, long-term acetaminophen usage is associated with liver toxicity.

Instead, see a pain management specialist who explores medication choices along with meditation, acupuncture and physical therapy.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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