When it comes to chronic back, hip and knee pain, opioid-based medicine is no more effective than non-opioid in helping the patient to walk, sleep and work, according to new research.

A randomised clinical trial held over the course of a year focused on 240 US war veterans with chronic back pain, hip or knee osteoarthritis and measured how much their pain interfered with everyday activities such as walking, sleeping and working.

Patients entered the study from 2013 to 2016 and the follow-up ended in 2016.

It found that the use of opioid medication therapy did not result in significantly better pain-related function over the trial period than the use of non-opioid medication.

It also found that pain levels were less intense in the nonopioid group, and adverse medication-related symptoms were more common among the opioid users.

Overall, opioids did not demonstrate any advantage over non-opioid medications that could potentially outweigh their greater risk of harms.

The research published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was partly funded by the Veterans Affairs Health Care System, USA and is significant because there is scant prior research comparing the long-term outcomes of opioid and non-opioid medication.

Long-term opioid therapy has become a standard approach to managing chronic musculoskeletal pain, despite a lack of high-quality data on its benefits and dangers.

The paper does not therefore support initiation of opioid therapy for moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain.

The study coincides with mounting concerns about opioid addiction in the US, and around the world.

Health Central investigated this issue in Early warning system recommended to resist opioid epidemic in New Zealand.

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