As Dr. Gabor Maté pointed out on Tim Ferriss’ podcast recently, every three weeks, there are as many people dying from opioid-related overdoses in the United States as the number of casualties we saw in 9/111. This fact was straight from the report that came out of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in November 2017, where the members reference the daily death rate of 142 Americans due to opioid-related overdoses2. There are many tragedies we could compare this death rate to paint the picture of how serious the crisis is, but the committee’s reference to 9/11 is significant because they go on to point out that after 9/11, the country came together to address what it decided was the cause—putting time, money, energy and resources behind the fight against terrorism. So why are we not responding with the same level of urgency to the opioid crisis that continues to take thousands of lives every few weeks? Why are we not considering opioid alternatives?
The argument for the last decade has been that the risks associated with prescription opioids such as addiction and health hazards including death, were outweighed by their benefit in treating pain (based on no long-term randomized clinical research). But what if they aren’t, and haven’t been all along? A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on March 6th, 2018 found that not only are opioids not better at treating chronic pain in patients, they are actually worse at treating chronic pain than non-opioids. The randomized study, conducted by Dr. Erin Krebs out of the Veterans Affairs health system, studied 240 chronic back, hip or knee pain patients who were prescribed either an opioid pain medication (i.e. morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone/acetaminophen) or a non-opioid pain medication such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
The two groups were studied over a period of one year, evaluated for pain intensity, adverse effects and pain-related function; the conclusion of which was that over 12 months:
- Groups did not significantly differ on pain-related function
- Pain intensity was significantly better in the non-opioid group
- Adverse medication-related symptoms were significantly more common in the opioid group.
These results nearly broke the internet on Tuesday as national news outlets like VOX, NPR, NBC News, U.S. News and CBS News who have been covering the epidemic for years unanimously agree that the implications of study turn the shaky foundation of the opioid crisis on its head. Could one conclude from this study, and the others that have found no increased benefit in using opioids to treat acute pain4,5, that we should then eliminate the use of opioids? Not necessarily. What this study does do, however, is set the stage for more research to be conducted in the future—a randomized, double blind controlled study with a larger sample size; it forces physicians, the medical community and the government to consider that the benefits associated with opioids might not outweigh the risks; and it provides patients with new information to make a more informed decision before they begin an opioid pain prescription regimen. I’ll have a Tylenol, thanks.
Roots Through Recovery uses natural methods of managing pain. Call Roots Through Recovery via (866) 766-8776 to schedule a FREE consultation with our team or visit us at 3939 Atlantic Ave, Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807.