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Study Finds Safe Pain Relief for Most Veterans

For cancer patients, modest, stable use of morphine-like drugs

TUESDAY, Nov. 23, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Most veteran patients who receive long-term treatment with morphine or other opioid painkillers receive moderate and stable doses of the medications, according to a Boston University School of Public Health study in the current issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers examined data from the Veterans Integrated Service Network for the New England region from January 1998 to June 2001. During the study period, more than 47,000 patients received almost 178,000 prescriptions for short-acting opioid medications, the researchers report, while almost 7,000 patients received more than 53,000 prescriptions for long-acting opioids.

However, the vast majority of patients -- many of whom suffered from cancer -- did not require high or steadily increasing doses of the powerful painkillers, they found.

"In veteran patients who received long-term oxycodone/acetaminophen prescriptions, mean daily doses were typically modest and stable, likely reflecting a selection of patients with successful, long-term management," the study authors wrote.

A select group of patients may need to be closely followed, however, to ensure quality pain relief, the researchers add. Among patients without cancer, especially, factors such as co-prescribing benzodiazepines, alcohol abuse or infection with HIV "may portend opioid prescription management problems," they wrote.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about chronic pain.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Nov. 22, 2004
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