The National Safety Council has released a new whitepaper “Evidence for the Efficacy of Pain Medications” which analyzes the results of a variety of studies attempting to find out whether or not opioids have a lower NNT than other common, non-addictive pain medications such as NSAIDs, naproxen sodium (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol.) NNT is the “number needed to treat,” meaning the number of people who must be treated by a specific intervention for one person to receive a certain effect. Ideally NNT is equal to one. In this case, the measure for the studies’ NNT was 50% pain relief, so an NNT of one would describe a medication that achieves at least 50% pain relief for every patient tested. The NSC found in their analysis that, contrary to popular belief, opioids are less effective at actual relief of pain compared to common NSAIDs and medications like Aleve. They note that the additive quality of opioids is the psychoactive effect, and indeed, this contributes to feelings of well-being, but purely in terms of pain, opioids are weaker, not stronger. Their discussion notes that the most effective pain treatment is a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen with an NNT of 1.7. By comparison, oxycodone has an NNT of 4.6.
Read the full whitepaper here.