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Many Migraine Sufferers Given Unnecessary Opioids, Study Finds

Many Migraine Sufferers Given Unnecessary Opioids, Study Finds

Migraine –a common American health concern. According to the US National Institutes of Health, migraine is a common health problem which affects about 12 percent of the American population. It is characterized by severe headaches and pounding pain usually confined on one side of the head accompanied by symptoms which include pain in the eyes and sensitivity to lights or sounds. Sometimes the symptoms can include nausea and vomiting.

Migraine can be excruciatingly painful and it can last for hours and even days for some. It tends to affect individuals aged 15 to 55 years old. While the exact causes of migraine are not known yet, many people who suffer from migraine may get warning signs before full-blown migraine happens. As of people already experiencing migraines, there are currently a number of medications available.

However, a recent study suggests that a lot of people suffering from migraine are unnecessarily prescribed with the potentially addictive opioids. According to the study, 15 percent of around 2,900 Americans who have consulted their doctors for migraine symptoms relief, were prescribed by their doctors with opiate painkillers like oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet) and others are given or hydrocodone (Norco, Vicoprofen).

Dr. Larry Charleston IV, the lead researcher of the said study who is also an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School. went on saying, “That’s despite the fact that the drugs should really be used only as a “last resort.”Opioids are not only less effective than recommended migraine drugs, they’re also risky.”

Dr. Charleston also explained that constant use of opioids can lead to frequent and even chronic occurrence of migraines. This is aside from the fact that opioids are known to be potentially addictive.

“We have a huge problem with opioids in the U.S.,”Dr. Charleston exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lauren Natbony who takes care of patients with migraine at Mount Sinai’s Center for Headache and Pain Medicine in New York City explained that one of the most common causes of chronic migraine attacks is actually overuse of medications which particularly includes opioids. According to Dr. Natbony, “The painkillers should only be used in “rare circumstances,such as for certain patients who simply cannot tolerate “migraine-specific” medications.” Although she is not involved in the recent study, Dr. Natbony shows concern with the figures saying that, “The 15 percent figure in this study is “way too high.”

The migraine treatment guidelines indicate that migraine patients should first try to use general painkillers like acetaminophen, naproxen and ibuprofen or even the specific migraine medications that are known as triptans including sumatriptan and rizatriptan. Those patients who have more frequent migraines may instead need preventive medicines such as metroprolol and propranolol, which are actually drugs for blood pressure, and anti-seizure medicines such as topiramate and valproate.

“It’s unclear why so many patients in this study were on opioids,” said Dr. Charleston.

Many of those doctors may have lacked knowledge or education in the treatment of migraine according to Natbony. She also noted that even some of the neurologists may be less educated particularly if they are not specialized in management of headaches. She advised the patients to “advocate for themselves.”

“Ask whether you are on the best medications for your head pain,” Natbony advised “and if you’re prescribed an opioid, question it. Don’t assume it’s OK because a doctor is prescribing it,” she further said.

She went on saying that those patients suffering from migraine who are not satisfied with their doctor’s care should opt to ask for a second opinion from a headache specialist if possible.

But, according to Dr. Charleston, “That may not always be easy, though. There’s roughly one headache specialist for every 86,000 migraine sufferers in the United States.”


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