MONDAY, May 14, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to pain management for hospital patients, opioid pills or injections are less dangerous and just as effective as giving the drug intravenously, a new study shows.
The results "have the potential to be practice-changing," study author Dr. Adam Ackerman, clinical instructor in internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
The researchers explained that to relieve pain, hospital patients are typically given opioid drugs in one of three forms: pill, injection or IV. The risk of side effects is higher with IV because the opioids rapidly penetrate the central nervous system, the researchers said.
Previous research has shown that even one IV dose of opioids can cause brain changes associated with addiction.
The three-month pilot study tested the new approach to opioid prescribing in a few hundred hospital patients. The results: The patients' IV opioid dosing was reduced by 84 percent, they had less overall exposure to opioids, and their pain control was as good or better than a control group of patients who received typical opioid prescribing.
"The data shows that the non-IV use of opioids can reduce overall opioid use in adult inpatients with no change in pain control, and potentially an improvement," said study co-author Dr. Robert Fogerty, an associate professor of medicine at Yale.
"It's an example of less is more," he added.
Changing how opioids are given to hospital patients could be one way to fight the opioid addiction and overdose epidemic in the United States, according to the study authors.
Study co-author Dr. Patrick O'Connor, chief of general internal medicine at Yale, said the study "represents an important piece of the puzzle in terms of how opioids can be used more safely and effectively in clinical practice.
"It also represents a critical strategy for reducing the potential risk of opioid-related complications, including overdose and death," he added.
The study was published May 14 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about prescription opioids.