Although the rate of people who use opioid drugs has skyrocketed recently, a National Institutes of Health white paper finds little evidence for the effectiveness of opioid drugs for treating long-term chronic pain.
The paper, released Jan. 13, is the final report of a seven-member panel convened by the NIH last September. The panel found that many of the studies used to justify the prescription of these drugs were either poorly conducted or of an insufficient duration.
In a news release, David Steffens, MD, MHS, chairman of the psychiatry department at UConn Health and one of the authors of the study, said, Theres no research-based evidence that these medicines are helpful. Yet prescriptions for opioid drugs have more than tripled in the past 20 years, with more than 219 million prescriptions written in 2011, according to the study.
At the same time, the abuse of these drugs has skyrocketed, leading some to refer to prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. More than 16,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2012 and drug overdose now causes more deaths than motor vehicle accidents for people ages 25-64, according to the release, which also reports that the U.S. with just 4.6% of the worlds population, consumes 80% of the worlds opioid drugs.
According to Steffens, who specializes in geriatric psychiatry, members of the panel were experienced clinicians with expertise in other areas besides drug abuse and pain management. The NIH intentionally invited people from other fields of medicine in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, and to get a fresh perspective on the issue, he said in the release.
The panel listened to evidence presented by an outside agency, which searched all available studies about the use of opioid drugs. The final report is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
In the release, Steffens said opioid drugs are an effective treatment for some patients with pain but not for others. There are certain syndromes, like fibromyalgia, where opioids are less likely to be effective and patients are more likely get into trouble with abuse, Steffens said in the release, adding that there is a need for better communication about best practices to physicians who are prescribing these drugs.