Opioids are often given to patients who visit emergency rooms with complaints of acute (sudden) pain. While the reason for doing so is to provide fast relief for patients experiencing significant discomfort, a new study suggests over-the-counter medications may be just as effective in some instances. The results are notable since there is a growing concern over addictions that develop with the legitimate use of opioids for pain relief purposes.
Different Medication Combinations for Bone and Joint Pain
The study looked at 400 patients who sought emergency treatment at a hospital in New York City. Specifically, the researchers zeroed in on patients with acute pain related to pain from bone fractures, dislocated shoulders, sprained ankles, and similar issues. Patients were given four different combinations of medications, with the non-opioid options included ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). The opioids used included oxycodone, codeine, and hydrocodone. ER patients were then asked to report their level of discomfort on a 1-10 pain scale after one and two hours.
Pain Reduction Similar Among Opioid and Non-Opioid Groups
Self-reported pain levels dropped nearly equally among all groups, including those given over-the-counter medications. The results may convince some doctors, including those who believe opioids are best for patients with severe fractures, to consider over-the-counter (OTC) recommendations. The study has some limitations, including the fact that chronic pain sufferers were excluded and the sampling was relegated to specific sources of discomfort.
Opioid Use Could Be Pulled Back Without Doing Any Harm
The opioid epidemic has led to efforts to find ways to cut back on the use of opioids when it makes sense to do so. All opioids were originally created for pain-relief purposes. Certain aspects of the epidemic involve intentional abuse and misuse and the consumption of opioids for the purpose of achieving an altered emotional state. Yet there are many situations where addictions develop when patents are unable to transition off of narcotic pain-relievers. This study suggests that it may be time for ER doctors to pause before automatically opting for narcotic painkillers for patients with acute pain, and that it may be possible to do so without causing harm or leaving patients in pain.
Urging Responsible Use of Opioids for Pain Relief
There are some instances when it does make sense to use opioids to ease pain. Also, some individuals, including those with underlying health issues, may have adverse reactions to NSAIDs and other non-opioids or OTC pain medications. When opioids are the best option for pain relief, researchers stress the need for careful observation of use and patient reactions.
More research is needed to determine how effective non-opioid OTC medications may be when administered to patients visiting ERs with acute pain. However, the results of this study conducted by researchers in New York and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association do present a possible incentive for physicians to explore other medications that may provide the same results without the risk of dependence developing.