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OTC Drugs as Effective as Addictive Opioids for Pain Relief

— November 9, 2017

OTC Drugs as Effective as Addictive Opioids for Pain Relief

The results of a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA) found that patients with sprains and minor broken bones given Tylenol and Motrin rather than powerful opioid painkillers experienced the same relief.  The patients were treated with either acetaminophen or ibuprofen or administered one of three prescription opioids – hydrocodone, codeine, or oxycodone.  The patients then rated their level of relief two hours later on a 10-point scale, and the over-the-counter medications were just as effective.

The fact that over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers offered the same benefits could have significantly positive implications amid the widespread opioid epidemic, with more than two million Americans addicted and prescription opioids often leading to heroin use.  Long-term opioid use typically starts with an in-hospital regimen for short-term pain relief.

The AMA study included just over 400 adult subjects who were treated in two ERs at New York City’s Montefiore Medical Center.  It may be a bit short-sighted, as researchers evaluated only short-term emergency room pain relief without considering how patients managed any lingering pain long after being discharged.

OTC Drugs as Effective as Addictive Opioids for Pain Relief
Image Courtesy of Raising Austin

“Preventing new patients from becoming addicted to opioids may have a greater effect on the opioid epidemic than providing sustained treatment to patients already addicted,” said Dr. Demetrios Kyriacou of Northwestern University.

Dr. Andrew Chang, an emergency medicine professor at Albany Medical College, led the study.  He said that Tylenol and Motrin, when combined, are actually extremely potent.  He also indicated that there is a pill already on the market in other countries that combines the two, and that Australia and Canada are currently testing the combination pill against opioids, comparing effectiveness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently began to recommend OTC pain relievers in lieu of prescription drugs, as well as acupuncture as a more holistic alternative.  In fact, acupuncture coupled with chiropractic care may be the best short- or long-term pain management option for injuries.

The AMA published a meta-analysis in 2012 that evaluated acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain, and the study, which included nearly 18,000 patients suffering from back and neck pain, found that “acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is, therefore, a reasonable referral option.”

Bill Reddy, L.Ac., DipLAc. and Director of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium agreed.  “Acupuncture is a viable, evidence-based solution to our nation’s opioid problem.”  He added, “And the best part is we already have an infrastructure…in place with nearly 18,000 acupuncturists that are both state-licensed and board-certified.”

Kory Ward-Cook, PhD, MT (ASCP), CAE, CEO of NCCAOM said, “Acupuncture is not only effective in reducing pain and helping to reduce our growing opioid addiction rate, today’s certified acupuncturists can address many other common health concerns.”

The bottom line?  There are options available that work just as well as the potent opioids that are being routinely prescribed and causing addiction.  Researchers are hoping to create sufficient awareness to convince physicians they should utilize OTC drugs or holistic methods as the first line of defense against pain, rather than continuing to prescribe addictive alternatives.  Follow up studies are likely needed to further substantiate their findings.


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