Opioid use offers limited benefits for patients with osteoarthritis

Research has shown that strong opioids are less effective than weak opioids in the treatment of osteoarthritic pain, although neither offer more than limited benefit.

Opioid use offers limited benefits for patients with osteoarthritis

Opioids offer only small benefits in terms of pain and function in osteoarthritis (OA) and do not improve quality of life or depression, research presented at the 2019 American College of Rheumatology annual meeting (10 November 2019) has suggested[1]

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 23 randomised controlled trials exploring the efficacy and safety of opioids in knee and/or hip OA.

Findings from the meta-analysis, which involved 11,402 participants, showed that opioid use was associated with small, statistically significant benefits on pain and function at 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 8 weeks and 12 weeks. 

No positive impact was found on quality of life or depression, although participants who received opioids reported higher sleep quality.

Subgroup analyses showed that strong opioids gave consistently worse pain relief than weak opioids.

“Physicians should be aware that opioids do not effectively relieve pain or improve functional capacity in OA,” said Raveendhara Bannuru, director of the Center for Treatment Comparison and Integrative Analysis at Tufts University School of Medicine in the United States, and an author on the study.

“Given the risk of dependency and adverse side effects associated with opioid drugs … physicians should consider other recommended treatment options above prescription opioids.”


[1] Osani M, Lohmander S & Bannuru R. Arthritis Rheumatol 2019;71(Suppl 10). Available at: https://acrabstracts.org/abstract/is-there-any-role-for-opioids-in-the-management-of-oa/ (accessed December 2019)

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Opioid use offers limited benefits for patients with osteoarthritis;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20207467

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