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Are Over-the-Counter Pain Meds More Effective than Prescribed Pain Killers?

Oct. 6, 2014
A new white paper released by the National Safety Council finds that over-the-counter medications are more effective for acute pain than prescribed painkillers like Vicodin.

New research from the National Safety Council reveals that the combination of over-the-counter pain medications ibuprofen and acetaminophen are more effective at treating acute pain than opioid painkillers. As patients find that they are unable to refill their hydrocodone prescription, this paper presents alternatives that should be discussed with their physician.

Many experts have voiced concerns about the increase in overdose deaths from prescription painkillers and there is evidence that addicted patients who no longer can fill prescriptions for opioid painkillers are turning to illegal drugs, such as heroin, for their “fix.”

Estimates place the cost of workplace drug use of both legal and illicit substances at $81 billion per year. Seventy percent of people using illegal substances are employed, and many carry over their illegal drug use into the workplace.

The release of the white paper, “Evidence for the Efficacy of Pain Medications,” coincides with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s reclassification of hydrocodone combination products, such as Vicodin, from Schedule III to Schedule II drugs. The reclassification makes the drugs more difficult for doctors to prescribe, and patients cannot have prescriptions refilled without seeing their doctor.

“There are alternatives to highly-addictive opioids for treating severe pain,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of NSC. “Prescription opioid overdoses resulted in more than 16,900 deaths in 2011. We must change the paradigm of treating pain if we are to curb this national health crisis.”

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for adults ages 25-64, and opioid painkillers are driving the increase in these deaths. Over-prescribing and liberal prescribing have contributed to the epidemic. Many people who struggle with painkiller addiction began using opioids with valid prescriptions following an injury or surgery. In the last 20 years, consumption of opioids has increased 600 percent in the United States.

In certain circumstances, opioid painkillers are an appropriate treatment option. NSC Medical Advisor Dr. Donald Teater points to research showing short-term opioid painkiller use can be helpful when treating patients recovering from surgery. These medications also can be effective in treating chronic pain associated with terminal cancer, because opioids have positive psychotherapeutic effects that help offset depression and anxiety.

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