The abuse of prescription painkillers is on the rise. Yet, there is no solid evidence that opioids, or narcotics, work better than surgery in relieving chronic pain from a degenerative spine condition. Opioids are a class of pain medications including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, Percocet, Oxycontin and Vicodin that work by interfering with the transmission of the pain signal to the brain, and also by changing the way the brain perceives pain.

While these drugs, in the short term, can be effective toward alleviating significant back and neck pain, there are a number of serious risks that need to be considered.  Opioids can be habit-forming if the patient isn’t careful. Opioids can also have limited effectiveness if the patient develops a tolerance to the medication over time. The most serious potential harm from opioid dependence is trouble with breathing, called “respiratory depression.” Also, there have been more deaths from prescription opioids in the most vulnerable young to middle-aged groups than from firearms and car accidents.

Studies have shown that 50% of patients taking opioids for at least three months are still on opioids five years later. A review of the available studies show that while opioids may provide short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintaining pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without serious risk of overdose, dependence or addiction.

For patients with bulging discs, herniated discs, sciatica, spinal stenosis, pinched nerves, and degenerative disc disease surgery leads to greater long-term improvement in pain, functioning, and disability compared to non-surgical treatment such as the use of opioids. This is the conclusion of an eight year follow-up study of data from the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT), the largest clinical trial of the treatment of spinal disorders, and also the first evidence-based study of spine surgery and pain medications. In SPORT, patients with herniated discs, spinal stenosis and degenerative spondylolisthesis in the spine underwent surgical or non-surgical treatment, such as opioid pain-killers.

When outcomes were compared for patients who underwent surgery versus non-surgical treatment, the researchers found that the peak benefits from surgery are achieved within six months after surgery and persist through eight years.

Likewise, a study from the Radiological Society of North America, comparing standard conservative non-surgical medication therapy to a minimally invasive surgical treatment called percutaneous disc decompression for painful herniated discs, revealed that only disc decompression kept patients pain free up to two years later.

These findings are consistent with the Bonati Spine Institute’s over 30 years of experience. The patented Bonati Spine Procedures are a safer and more effective alternative to opioid medications. We invites you to contact us at (855) 267-0482 or click here to arrange for a free MRI review by one of our surgeons.