Placebo Beats Opioids For Back Pain, Recent Study Reports

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People with acute and moderate pain typically are not good candidates for opioid prescription treatment, a new study shows. Opioid drugs come with dangerous side effects, and equally effective treatment options are readily available.

Placebo Beats Opioids For Back Pain, Recent Study Reports

A new study in Australia has found that prescription opioids are not the best option for treating specific types of moderate pain.

Study participants who took non-prescription painkillers, such as Tylenol, and even a placebo pill for moderate back and neck pain had similar results as those who took prescription opioids.

The findings are particularly significant due to the overprescription of opioid painkillers in recent decades, which has contributed to the opioid epidemic.

Once thought to be non-addictive, opioid prescription drugs such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin), and others are highly addictive.

Placebo Vs. Opioids For Moderate Non-Specific Pain

The study included 350 participants in their 40s experiencing acute, moderate back or neck pain.

Participants were split into two groups. One group took a placebo for their pain, while the other took prescription opioids.

Both groups also had the option of taking non-opioid medications for pain, like Tylenol.

After six weeks, researchers found very few differences in pain levels reported by the participants.

This caused the co-author of the study to recommend that healthcare providers prioritize other types of pain management for low to moderate non-specific pain.

America’s Opioid Epidemic

Using alternative treatments for pain when possible is critical due to the ongoing opioid epidemic in America, during which opioids have become the leading cause of overdose deaths in all U.S. age groups.

In 2017, more than 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to citizens throughout the U.S.

Although the dispensing rate has lowered in recent years, there are still more than 100 million opioid prescriptions written annually.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes medications such as oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl as well as illicit drugs like heroin.

Prescription opioids are primarily used for the treatment of acute or chronic pain. Ideally, these highly addictive medications should be used only as a short-term option.

To block pain signals, opioids attach to opioid receptors throughout the body. They also release large amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can stimulate feelings of happiness.

Alternative uses for opioids include:

  • anesthesia
  • cancer treatment
  • palliative care
  • hospice care

Risks And Side Effects Of Opioid Use

Using opioids for extended periods of time is very risky and can lead to a number of complications or side effects even when taken as prescribed.

The most significant risk is the potential for physical dependence and abuse. Opioids are highly addictive, and attempting to quit suddenly can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms.

Many people quickly develop a tolerance, which means they need to take opioids more frequently or at higher doses to feel the same effects. This is a strong indicator of dependence.

Other potential risks or side effects may be:

  • constipation
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • depression
  • disorientation
  • slowed breathing

Statistics On Opioid Addiction

Addiction to both synthetic and prescription opioids has been on the rise since 1999 and is currently at epidemic levels.

More than 90,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2020, and around 75% of those deaths involved some type of opioid.

Approximately 16 million people worldwide, including more than 3 million Americans, experience opioid use disorders every year.

Illegal fentanyl use has contributed significantly to the sharp increase in opioid overdoses, as the powerful synthetic opioid is frequently added to other illicit substances like cocaine, unbeknownst to people who buy these drugs.

Therefore, using other ways to treat pain is crucial, since avoiding opioid use altogether can help prevent the development of a substance use disorder (SUD).

Opioid Alternatives For Pain Management

There are a number of alternative options for treating pain that you can discuss with your doctor.

This includes both over-the-counter and prescription medications designed to help with pain that are non-addictive.

These may include:

  • ibuprofen
  • acetaminophen
  • aspirin
  • steroids

Non-medication options include physical therapy, exercise, massage therapy, acupuncture, and nerve blocks.

There are also experimental treatment options for chronic pain that use radio waves, spinal cord stimulation, or electric signals to relieve symptoms.

Get Help For A Substance Use Disorder

If you or a loved one is living with drug addiction or opioid dependency, help is available. To learn about starting the addiction recovery journey, contact us today.

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