In 2012, Americans received nearly 260 million prescriptions for opiate painkillers. Now, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released a white paper that reports “a dire need for research” to make up for the “scant” evidence that opioid painkillers should be used to treat chronic pain.
The NIH white paper condenses the final work of a seven-member panel that was convened in September to study the place of opioids in medicine. That panel, comprising independent experts in psychiatry, epidemiology and other disciplines, wrote in its full report that “the prevalence of chronic pain and the increasing use of opioids have created a ‘silent epidemic’.”
“The overriding question,” the panel wrote, “is whether we, as a nation, are currently approaching chronic pain in the best possible manner that maximizes effectiveness and minimizes harm.”
There is not nearly enough good research to say for sure, the experts said, writing: “Evidence is insufficient for every clinical decision that a provider needs to make about the use of opioids for chronic pain.”
That dearth of evidence combined with high numbers of substance abuse and overdose deaths in the US have created circumstances doctors need to confront immediately, the authors said.