Health care workers in many countries around the world have long been known to prescribe opioids to help manage chronic pain.
But new research suggests that the medication may also be helpful for chronic pain patients in some countries.
The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Pain.
The researchers looked at how painkillers are prescribed in South Korea, which is one of the few countries where they are available over the counter.
In South Korea doctors prescribe opioids for chronic non-cancer pain, but opioids are also used to treat acute pain.
This new study used data from the national survey of pain patients conducted in 2014.
The researchers found that South Koreans are using opioids to treat chronic pain about twice as often as they were using opioids for acute pain, or a slightly lower proportion of pain sufferers use them for both.
This finding may help explain why South Koreans do not use opioids as often for chronic care, but it does not mean that opioids are ineffective for chronic conditions, such as cancer.
“While there is some evidence that opioids have analgesic properties, we did not find any clear evidence that they were effective for chronic disease,” said study author Tae-Hwan Kim, an assistant professor at Seoul National University and the department of emergency medicine.
More than a quarter of pain clinic patients in South Korean hospitals reported having a history of pain, and most reported that they had used opioids for pain in the past.
They said that opioids had helped them manage their pain more effectively than prescription painkillers.
Kim said that while there was some evidence of effectiveness of opioids for certain types of chronic pain, it was unclear whether opioids would be effective for all types of pain.
Dr. Eric Kandel, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in the research, said that this study shows that opioids may be useful for some types of cancer, such aneurysms and brain tumors, but that they may not be helpful in other conditions, like chronic pain or osteoarthritis.
“We need to better understand the mechanisms underlying the effect of opioids on pain,” Kandel said.
Researchers are also investigating whether opioids are effective in treating chronic pain associated with chronic kidney disease (CKD).
The authors found that in South Koreans, patients who had CKD were using opioid analgesics at a rate that was about three times higher than patients who did not have CKD.
In other words, opioids were providing the same level of analgesia as prescription pain medications, but the patients were taking more of them.
The study authors also found that people who were in the hospital for at least two weeks had significantly lower opioid use rates compared with people who did no or minimal hospitalization.
While this study is the first to show that opioids can be effective in helping chronic pain sufferer, the researchers caution that more research is needed to see if opioids are helpful for all chronic pain conditions.
Source: University of Maryland Medical Center