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Non-opioids treat back, knee pain just as well as opioids: study

Photo: Robert Kirk/iStockphoto

Minneapolis — Non-opioid painkillers are as effective as opioids in treating moderate to severe chronic back pain and hip or knee osteoarthritis pain, according to researchers from the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

The researchers examined 234 patients who were randomly assigned generic versions of opioids or non-opioids for one year. The opioids tested included Vicodin, oxycodone and fentanyl patches, while non-opioids included acetaminophen, ibuprofen and prescription medication for nerve or muscle pain.

Findings showed that, after a year, opioids worked no better than non-opioids at improving pain – and even provided slightly less pain relief.

Lead study author Erin Krebs believes the results will surprise many. “Opioids have this reputation as being really powerful painkillers, and that is not what we found,” Krebs said in a March 6 press release.

More than 42,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016, with 40 percent involving prescription painkillers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.

The study was published online March 6 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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