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Oct 06, 2014 05:29 AM EDT

Harmful Effects of Opioids Eclipse the Benefits, Study

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Serious side effects of opioids outweigh the pain medication's benefits, according to University of Washington study.

Researchers say that opioids or narcotics increase risk of death and addiction among patients suffering from chronic and non-cancer conditions like headache, fibromyalgia and chronic low back pain.

"More than 100,000 people have died from prescription opioid use since policies changed in the late 1990s to allow much more liberal long-term use," said Gary M. Franklin, research professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences in the University of Washington School of Public Health, in a press release. "There have been more deaths from prescription opioids in the most vulnerable young to middle-aged groups than from firearms and car accidents.

A review of the available studies found that although opioids provide significant short-term pain relief, they do not enhance function over long periods of time without serious risk of overdose, dependence or addiction.

Researchers suggest patients consult their pain management specialist if their dosage exceeds 80 to 120 (morphine-equivalent dose) milligrams per day and the medication does not improve suffering and function among them.

"More research and information regarding opioid effectiveness and management is needed, along with changes in state and federal laws and policy to ensure that patients are safer when prescribed these drugs," said Franklin.

The finding is published in the Journal Neurology.

A recent study by McGill University found that higher death rates are associated with commonly prescribed painkillers than heroin and cocaine abuse combined. In 2010, 16, 000 deaths were recorded due to prescribed painkillers in the U.S. alone. And around 45 people lose their lives every day due to opiate-based medications.

Nicolas King, a professor of social studies of medicine, said that the increased prescription of opioids to patients, especially potent ones like oxycodone, is strongly connected to the higher mortality rates.

"We found evidence for at least 17 different determinants of increasing opioid-related mortality, mainly, dramatically increased prescription and sales of opioids; increased use of strong, long-acting opioids like Oxycontin and methadone; combined use of opioids and other (licit and illicit) drugs and alcohol; and social and demographic factors," King of the Biomedical Ethics Unit in the Faculty of Medicine said in a press release.

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