According to the researchers, there are some significant differences between various painkillers and their side effects. The research team looked at older patients who were taking pain medication for arthritis. Most of the pain meds fell into one of three categories: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDS); selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors (coxibs); and opioids.
For the study, the researchers looked at seven years of data for Medicare beneficiaries from two U.S. states. All the Medicare patients qualified for pharmaceutical assistance programs. The researchers looked at the relative risk for a specific cardiovascular event such as heart attack, stroke or heart failure. They also looked at other serious prescription side effects, including risk for gastrointestinal events (upper or lower bleeding, bowel obstruction), acute kidney injury, liver toxicity, and bone fractures.
The research team found that opioid use, in particular, is associated with an increased risk for a number of safety events. For example, coxib and opioid users had an increased risk of cardiovascular events by 28% and 77%, respectively, compared to NSAID users. On the other hand, when it came to gastrointestinal bleeding, risk was reduced by 40% in coxib users. And the risk for fractures was bumped up almost four-fold for those taking opioids. Opioids (but not coxibs) were associated with an increased risk (by 68%) of safety events requiring hospitalization and an 87% increase in all-cause mortality.
What can you take away from this study? This health advice: opioid use is associated with increased relative risk for a number of safety events compared with NSAIDs. Get your doctor’s advice when it comes to taking pain meds. Make sure the prescription side effects of the drugs you are taking are as minimal as they can be.