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Risks of Taking Opioids Can Outweigh the Benefits

Update Date: Sep 30, 2014 10:45 AM EDT

The risks of taking long-term narcotic (opioid) painkillers outweigh the benefits for certain health conditions, a doctor with the American Academy of Neurology concluded. In the statement, the doctor concluded that people with chronic headaches, low back pain and fibromyalgia, which is a syndrome characterized by pain and tenderness in their joints, muscles, tendons and soft tissues, are at risk of addiction if they continue to take opioids.

"This is the first position paper by a major American specialty society saying that there is a real problem here, and the risk might not be worth the benefit for certain conditions," the author of the statement, Dr. Gary Franklin, of the University of Washington in Seattle, said reported by TIME.

In the statement, Dr. Franklin reported that the use of opioids, which include prescription medications, such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, hydrocodone or any combination of these drugs with acetaminophen (Tylenol) could lead to many adverse side effects. These side effects include overdose, addiction and death.

"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," Dr. Franklin said in an academy news release according to Philly. "There have been more deaths from prescription opioids in the most vulnerable young to middle-aged groups than from firearms and car accidents. Doctors, states, institutions and patients need to work together to stop this epidemic."

The academy added that roughly 50 percent of people who have been on these drugs for at least three months are still taking them five years later. Even though these drugs can provide short-term pain relief, Dr. Franklin stressed that there is no evidence that these drugs aid in pain relief and daily functions in the long-term without serious risks.

"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," Dr. Franklin said.

The statement recommends doctors to seek out a pain management specialist for patients that need a daily dose of opioids between 80 and 120 milligrams, especially if the patients do not report any improvements in their pain. The statement also states that doctors should screen patients for depression as well as any current or past drug abuse.

The statement, "Opioids for chronic noncancer pain," was published in the journal, Neurology.

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