OPIOIDS have been replaced with heat packs to manage back pain as part of a new trial at selected hospitals in NSW.
The trial saw up to 24 per cent reduction in the number of prescriptions issued for opioids to patients with acute back pain in emergency departments.
Importantly, there was no increase in pain levels for patients, or any drop in satisfaction with care from patients despite clinicians giving out fewer opioid painkillers.
The results could transform the way patients with back pain are treated at hospitals across Australia and help tackle the growing opioid crisis.
Researchers educated clinicians on other management strategies and trained them how to communicate and give appropriate patients pain education, gave suggestions for non-opioid evidence-based medication alternatives, suggested non-pharmacological pain management such as heat wraps, and gave quick access outpatient referral options such as physio or back clinic if available.
"Every year thousands of Australians are unnecessarily being prescribed opioid painkillers which can cause addiction, overdose and in some cases even death," said lead author Dr Gustavo Machado.
"Patients turn up at emergency departments often in incredible pain and discomfort and receive a highly addictive painkiller. It's meant to be just a short-term fix but in reality, a month later a third of patients are still taking these pills.
"Emergency departments are incredibly busy places and there is a huge pressure on clinicians to treat people as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for acute back pain but providing opioids has a lot of downsides.
"Our trial has demonstrated that there is a safer way to treat acute back pain that can easily be adopted by hospitals across the country. With back pain often being a leading reason people visit emergency departments, this new strategy could result in millions of scripts being handed out each year and help tackle the global opioid epidemic."