Can over-the-counter pain medications manage pain just as well as opioids? As we see people dying everyday of opioid addiction, we set out to verify how effective those drugs are.
To find out if over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are just as effective we spoke to; Dr. Laura Lumsden, a pharmacist at Remedy Drug, Dori Haddock, a therapist at Bradford Health, plus we looked into a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
"There was a day when Advil and Motrin were prescription only so it’s a misconception," said Lumsden. “If you sprained your ankle, you don’t want to immediately find some hydrocodone to take. Ibuprofen, ice, elevation, there are a lot of non-medication things that can be done before just going to the opiates."
A March 2018 study by JAMA included 240 patients with moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain. Over the course of a year, half of the patients were given morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone/acetaminophen. The rest were given acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen).
"They work differently. The opioid actually works on pain receptors so it kind of numbs the pain. The over the counter medicines, especially Ibuprofen, are anti-inflammatory, so they actually reduce the pain by reducing the injury,” said Lumsden.
After 12 months, the study found pain intensity was significantly better in the non-opioid group. On an 11 point scale, the patients who took opioids rated their pain at 4.0, while those who took over the counter medication, rated their pain at 3.5.
Dori Haddock helps people struggling with drug addiction. She has seen patients who use over the counter not only avoid addiction, but manage their pain better.
"We had one that had a hand surgery that required like six or seven different surgeries and that patient is managing it with like Ibuprofen," said Haddock.
Haddock stresses there is a place for opioids for some patients.
“Not everyone is addicted to their pain medication. Not every doctor is over-prescribing,” said Haddock.
Lumsden suggests trying over-the-counter options first, verifying their effectiveness compared to opioids.
"We're seeing time and time again that it is making a difference," said Lumsden.
If you're already taking opioids, Lumsden suggested talking to your doctor or pharmacist before switching to over-the-counter treatment.