The results, which were published Tuesday in the American Medical Association journal, involved 411 adults in two emergency rooms at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. The participants were in the emergency room for leg and arm fractures or sprains. One group of patients were administered acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, plus ibuprofen, the main ingredient in Motrin; the other patients were given an opioid — either oxycodone, hydrocodone or codeine. All the patients were given standard doses and were not told which drug they received.
According to Dr. Andrew Chang, an emergency medicine professor at Albany Medical College who spearheaded the study, ibuprofen and acetaminophen affect different pain receptors. Therefore, combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen together can act as a powerful painkiller.
The patients were asked to rate their pain on a 10-point scale before taking the medication and again two hours later. The results showed that, on average, pain ratings among all patients dropped from nine to about five, with inconsequential differences between the opioid and non-opioid group.
With opioids being prescribed in almost one-third of all ER visits even though more than 2 million Americans are already addicted to opioids or heroin, this study could help curb a national epidemic.
"Preventing new patients from becoming addicted to opioids may have a greater effect on the opioid epidemic than providing sustained treatment to patients already addicted," according to Dr. Demetrios Kyriacou, an emergency medicine specialist at Northwestern University.
One of the study's limitations is that it only evaluated short-term pain relief while the patients were in the ER. The researchers did not study the patients' management of pain after leaving the hospital.