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JAMA Patient Page
April 19, 2016

Opioids for Chronic Pain

JAMA. 2016;315(15):1672. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.3224

A new guideline is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on opioid prescribing for chronic pain.

Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that relieve pain by binding to receptors in the brain or body to reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain. Doctors prescribe opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine to treat acute pain or chronic pain (pain that lasts more than 3 months).

Although opioids can reduce short-term pain and can effectively relieve pain for patients with active cancer or others in hospice or palliative care, studies have not been conducted to determine if opioids control chronic pain after a few months. Opioids can have serious risks, and there is evidence that other treatments can be effective with less harm. Opioids can cause people to stop breathing and die, especially at higher dosages or when combined with alcohol, medications, or other substances.