According to researchers, the use of opioids to treat chronic pain may not only be ineffective, it could increase the likelihood of more harmful consequences, including death.

The study, authored by palliative care physicians Mellar P. Davis, MD, and Zankhana meta, MD, from Geisinger Health System, was published recently in Current Oncology Reports.

“When patients are given opioid therapy for chronic pain, there is evidence that it interferes with the body’s natural resolution of the pain,” says Davis, in a media release from Geisinger Health System. “Opioid therapy may put someone at an increased risk for multiple adverse effects. And it actually has the potential of extending the history of their pain.”

Among patients on chronic opioid therapy, their risk of addiction, depression, central hypogonadism – where the hypothalamus and pituitary glands don’t function properly – sleep-disordered breathing, impaired wound healing, infections, cognitive impairment, falls, fractures, and death increase, the physicians add.

The physicians note that opioids have been helpful in reducing the intensity of acute pain and in managing pain associated with terminal cancer.

However, they add that the use of opioids to treat chronic pain has been common practice without significant research to judge their safety.

In addition, Davis believes that opioids have been over-prescribed by physicians because of limited treatment options, per the release.

“There are not a lot of pain management centers providing a variety of effective, non-opioid and non-pharmacologic therapies,” he says in the release. “In addressing the opioid epidemic in our society, we should be putting our efforts into developing more chronic pain rehabilitation programs versus making opioid packaging tamper-resistant to prevent the crushing, snorting and injecting of prescribed narcotics.”

The management of chronic pain needs to be vastly different from the treatment of acute pain, the duo concludes. Instead, they urge physicians to take into consideration the significant side effects and adverse health consequences of opioids.

[Source(s): Geisinger Health System, PR Newswire]