Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers Worked As Well As Opioids In New Study

By LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — Emergency rooms are where many patients are first introduced to powerful opioid painkillers, but what if doctors offered over-the-counter pills instead? A new study tested that approach on patients with broken bones and sprains and found pain relievers sold as Tylenol and Motrin worked as well as opioids at reducing severe pain.

The results challenge common ER practice for treating short-term, severe pain and could prompt changes that would help prevent new patients from becoming addicted.

The study has limitations: It only looked at short-term pain relief in the emergency room and researchers didn’t evaluate how patients managed their pain after leaving the hospital.

tylenol Over The Counter Pain Relievers Worked As Well As Opioids In New Study

(Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

But given the scope of the U.S. opioid epidemic — more than 2 million Americans are addicted to opioid painkillers or heroin — experts say any dent in the problem could be meaningful.

Results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Long-term opioid use often begins with a prescription painkiller for short-term pain, and use of these drugs in the ER has risen in recent years. Previous studies have shown opioids were prescribed in nearly one-third of ER visits and about 1 out of 5 ER patients are sent home with opioid prescriptions.

“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,” Dr. Demetrios Kyriacou, an emergency medicine specialist at Northwestern University, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

The study involved 411 adults treated in two emergency rooms at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Their injuries included leg and arm fractures or sprains. All were given acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, plus either ibuprofen, the main ingredient in Motrin, or one of three opioids: oxycodone, hydrocodone or codeine. They were given standard doses and were not told which drug combo they received.

ibuprofen Over The Counter Pain Relievers Worked As Well As Opioids In New Study

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Patients rated their pain levels before taking the medicine and two hours later. On average, pain scores dropped from almost 9 on a 10-point scale to about 5, with negligible differences between the groups.

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen affect different pain receptors in the body so using the two drugs together may be especially potent, said Dr. Andrew Chang, an emergency medicine professor at Albany Medical College in upstate New York, who led the study.

He noted that a pill combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen is available in other countries; his findings echo research from Canada and Australia testing that pill against opioids for pain relief.
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Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner on Twitter at @LindseyTanner. Her work can be found here.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments

One Comment

  1. Sine I’ve had both of my hips replaced(48years old), I use 800MG of ibuprofen 2x a day. sometimes 4x a day depending on my activity. I can walk 10 miles during a full 8hr shift at work (by my fitness watches standard) Sometimes I overdue it and cant walk. At that point something stronger is needed. But now that the pharma industry got so many people hooked, I can’t get a prescription to help my situation because I must be a “junky”. It’s amazing to me that I can’t get the meds I need but the abusers are getting enough to sell and OD on.

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