The risk of death, overdose and addiction from prescription opioids outweighs the benefits in treating headache, chronic low back pain and other non-cancer conditions, according to a new position paper from the American Academy of Neurology.
The doctors' group says research shows that half of patients who take opioids for at least three months are still on them five years later, HealthDay reports.
"Whereas there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction," the statement noted.
"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. Gary Franklin of the University of Washington in Seattle said in an academy news release. "There have been more deaths from prescription opioids in the most vulnerable young to middle-aged groups than from firearms and car accidents," he added. "Doctors, states, institutions and patients need to work together to stop this epidemic."
The group advises doctors to consult with a pain management specialist if a patient's daily opioid dose reaches 80 milligrams to 120 milligrams, especially if the patient isn't showing a major reduction in pain levels and improvement in physical function. The statement outlines a number of steps doctors can take to prescribe opioids more safely and effectively.
These include creating an opioid treatment agreement, screening for current or past drug abuse, screening for depression and using random urine drug screenings.