Nonopioids as effective as opioids in reducing acute pain in the ED


Clinical question: What is the most effective analgesic combination, opioid vs. nonopioid, for treating acute extremity pain in the emergency department?

Background: Patients often are prescribed opioids for acute pain in the ED while awaiting work-up. With the current opioid epidemic in the United States, it is important to examine the appropriate use of opioids and look for alternative medications for acute pain.

Study design: Randomized, controlled trial.

Setting: Two urban New York City emergency departments from July 2015 to August 2016.

Synopsis: 411 patients aged 21-65 years were randomized to four groups for treatment of acute extremity pain. Each received one oral analgesic combination: ibuprofen 400 mg and acetaminophen 1,000 mg; oxycodone 5 mg and acetaminophen 325 mg; hydrocodone 5 mg and acetaminophen 300 mg; or codeine 30 mg and acetaminophen 300 mg. Their pain was scored on presentation using a standard 0-10 numerical rating scale (NRS) and then at 2 hours after medication. The primary outcome was difference in NRS among groups. All patients had improvement in pain scores. Pain score improved by 4.4 in the oxycodone group, 4.3 in the ibuprofen group, 3.5 in the hydrocodone group, and 3.9 in the codeine group. There were no statistically significant differences among groups. Limitations to the study included short follow-up time, no reported data on adverse effects, and lack of uniform acetaminophen doses in each group.

Bottom line: There was no statistically significant difference in pain control among patients given a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen vs. three different opioids with acetaminophen when treating acute extremity pain in the ED.

Citation: Chang AK et al. Effect of a single dose of oral opioid and nonopioid analgesics on acute extremity pain in the emergency department: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2017 Nov 7;318(17):1661-7.

Dr. Mathew is assistant professor of medicine, division of hospital medicine, University of Virginia.

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