Opioids have been touted by certain experts as a “one drug cures all”, but a recent study finds that prescription opioid painkillers such as oxycodone are no different than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen for treating pain after a car crash.
The study found that patients complained of persistent pain even six weeks after a car accident with whichever of the two drugs they were given. But what did differ in comparison of the two drugs was that people were being prescribed opioids more often, which can be addictive, would use them at other times as well.
Dr. Francesca Beaudoin, lead author of the study, Assistant Professor of emergency medicine at Brown University’s Warren Alpert School of Medicine and an ED physician at Rhode Island Hospital set out to test this situation by enrolling 948 people in the study.
The participants had been involved in car accidents six weeks prior to the study.
The researchers made comparisons between the two painkillers by considering more than 50 variables, which also included characteristics of the accident and patient medical history, to make the comparison fair. This proved to be important as patients who were prescribed opioids were the ones who reported greater levels of pain in the emergency department. Without taking these variables into consideration, the comparisons between the opioids and NSAIDs would have been unfair.
Dr. Beaudoin says, “You’d think there would be a wealth of studies comparing our ‘go-to’ pain meds, but there just aren’t.
“But now that opioids are under fire, it’s forcing us to ask: What is the best treatment, who is it best for and under what conditions? As an emergency physician, I prescribe these drugs all the time. Does what I am giving to people have any impact on the pain outcomes that matter to them?”
The scientists found that patients who were prescribed opioids than NSAIDs were 7.2% more likely to report moderate to severe pain. But this difference was so small it was not considered significant.
In addition, the patients who were prescribed opioids were 17.5% more likely to continue using opioids after six weeks prescription time, when compared to NSAIDs.