New study reveals the dangers of common painkillers

Commonly prescribed painkillers should be given for shorter periods of time to reduce the risk of obesity and sleep deprivation, according to a new study by Newcastle University.

The research shows that medications commonly used to treat pain, like gabapentinoids such as gabapentin, pregabilin and opiates, doubled the risk of obesity and were also associated with poor sleep.

Scientists assessed the cardio-metabolic health – the inter-relationship between metabolic and cardiovascular disease – in more than 133,000 participants.

Body Mass Index, waist circumference and blood pressure were compared between those taking painkillers for chronic, non-cancer pain and cardio-metabolic drugs, compared to those prescribed cardio-metabolic treatment only.

Conditions that can require the use of this treatment include migraine, diabetic neuropathy and chronic lower back pain.

In 2016, 24 million opiates prescriptions were issued in the UK, double the amount of 2006. Two years ago, 11,000 patients were admitted to hospital due to an opiate overdose.

Findings of the new study show people on opiates and cardio-metabolic drugs reported 95 per cent rates of obesity, 82 per cent ‘very high’ waist circumference and 63 per cent hypertension, as opposed to those on cardio-metabolic drugs only.

Dr Sophie Cassidy, the study’s lead author, said: ‘In the last two decades there has been a significant increase in the number of people being prescribed both opioid and non-opioid medications to treat chronic pain.’

‘However, this is the largest study looking at the links between commonly prescribed painkillers and cardio-metabolic health. We already know that opiates are dependency-forming but this study also found patients taking opiates have the worst health. Obesity rates are much higher and the patients reported sleeping poorly.’

‘These results add further weight to calls for these chronic pain medications to be prescribed for shorter periods.’