Risk of Opioid Overdose, Addiction Outweighs Benefits in Many Cases: Neurologists

Medicine Bottle with Hydrocodone Label and Tablets

The risk of death, overdose and addiction from prescription opioids outweighs the benefits in treating headache, chronic low back pain and other non-cancer conditions, according to a new position paper from the American Academy of Neurology.

The doctors’ group says research shows that half of patients who take opioids for at least three months are still on them five years later, HealthDay reports.

“Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction,” the statement noted.

“More than 100,000 people have died from prescription opioid use since policies changed in the late 1990s to allow much more liberal long-term use,” Dr. Gary Franklin of the University of Washington in Seattle said in an academy news release. “There have been more deaths from prescription opioids in the most vulnerable young to middle-aged groups than from firearms and car accidents,” he added. “Doctors, states, institutions and patients need to work together to stop this epidemic.”

The group advises doctors to consult with a pain management specialist if a patient’s daily opioid dose reaches 80 milligrams to 120 milligrams, especially if the patient isn’t showing a major reduction in pain levels and improvement in physical function. The statement outlines a number of steps doctors can take to prescribe opioids more safely and effectively. These include creating an opioid treatment agreement, screening for current or past drug abuse, screening for depression and using random urine drug screenings.

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    Davis Shryer

    February 8, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    Good article, thank you. I work as a drug counselor in a chronic pain clinic. We screen all potential long-term opioid users for signs of abuse or a history of abuse. Even then, I would suggest there is little evidence that long-term opioid therapy does anything to improve function and in general, may lead to more pain (hyperalgesia).

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    October 6, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    Although a complx issue you are very wrong about a chronic pain patient not becoming addicted. We have seen many tragic deaths occur from opiates that were truly prescribed for pain. And of course, living in Florida too many greedy doctors and pill mills in it just for the money. see website stoppnow.com for how you can help

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    Elaine Keller

    October 2, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    Reading this report triggered a vivid memory of watching my husband crawl across the floor in agony. He wasn’t able to get himself upright and walk again until opoids finally relieved his pain. He wasn’t able to function without pain pills until months and months later when they finally fixed the problem by surgically removing the disk that was being squeezed between two vertebrae. But before they would do the surgery, he had to jump through all the hoops (steroid injections, physical therapy, etc.) Once the cause of the pain was removed, he had no problem whatsoever giving up the pills. I have a sneaking suspicion that some day research will reveal that chemicals produced by the body when it is in agony protect against any potential “addictive” properties of pain relievers. I do know that not once during the months that he was taking these medications did he appear to be intoxicated by them.

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    Jose G. Carreon

    September 30, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    Not only is using an opiate for long term treatment to risky but the longer you use an opiate for relief of pain the more sensitive you become to pain. This creates a vicious cycle of using and opiate for pain and needing it more because of your newly acquired sensitivity for pain.

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    Skip Sviokla MD ABAM

    September 30, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    Terrific article—on track from my perspective as an addiction med doc.
    Skip Sviokla MD

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