A new hope for chronic pain sufferers: Reducing dependence on opioids

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Opioids are powerful painkillers often prescribed by doctors. But they can cause problems if used for a long time.

In the UK, over 1 million people use prescription opioids, with over 50,000 people using these drugs for six months or more. This costs the National Health Service (NHS) about £500 million each year.

Moreover, long-term use of these drugs is harmful. But until now, there have been no alternatives to help people safely stop using opioids while still managing chronic (long-lasting) non-cancer pain.

New Research Offers a Solution

A team of researchers from the University of Warwick and The James Cook University Hospital have found a possible solution.

They’ve come up with a program that helps people gradually stop using prescription painkillers. At the same time, the program teaches people other ways to manage their pain.

How the Research was Done

The researchers carried out a study, called I-WOTCH (Improving the Wellbeing of people with Opioid Treated Chronic Pain), with over 600 people who had been regularly taking strong opioids for at least three months.

These people were split into two groups. One group continued with their regular doctor’s care and received a self-help booklet and relaxation CD.

The second group received the same but also took part in the newly developed program.

The program included sessions on managing stress, setting goals, practicing mindfulness, improving posture and movement, and managing withdrawal symptoms and pain after stopping opioids.

What the Research Found

The results were impressive. After one year, 29 percent of people who took part in the new program completely stopped using opioids.

Only 7 percent of people who just had the regular doctor’s care and self-help booklet were able to do the same.

Importantly, there was no difference in pain levels or how much pain affected their lives between the two groups.

A Closer Look at the Program

The program, which lasts 8 to 10 weeks, includes both group support sessions and one-to-one support. The group sessions happen three times a week and cover various topics.

These include education about opioids and pain, stories from people who have successfully reduced opioid use, and learning skills to manage pain.

The sessions also give people the chance to practice techniques like mindfulness.

The one-to-one sessions provide individual support and personalized advice for reducing opioid use. These sessions happen face-to-face and over the phone.

The researchers even designed a special app for the study to calculate how much to reduce opioid use, based on the guidance at that time.

What This Means for the Future

This research is a big step forward. Professor Harbinder Kaur Sandhu, who led the study, said that the program could help people stop using opioids safely, gradually, and with support.

It also teaches them alternative ways to manage their pain and overcome withdrawal challenges.

Professor Sam Eldabe, co-leader of the study, added that the research shows that opioids can be reduced and stopped without making the pain worse. This suggests that opioids have little long-term effect on persistent pain.

This research offers new hope for people dealing with chronic pain and gives them a way to improve their quality of life.

If you care about pain, please read studies that some common painkillers may actually cause chronic pain, and Tart cherry could help reduce inflammation.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that the painkiller ibuprofen may strongly influence your liver, and results showing Marijuana for pain relief may lead to withdrawal symptoms.

The study was published in JAMA.

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