Too Many Pain Meds Handed out for Migraines

July 1, 2015

shutterstock_140803288Two new studies presented in June at the American Headache Society’s annual meeting in Washington D.C. shed light on the types of drugs—some ineffective and perhaps addictive—given to migraine sufferers, both adults and children.

One study conducted by the headache services department at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City surveyed 217 adults visiting a headache center. Nearly 56 percent of the participants, most of whom ended up receiving a migraine diagnosis, said they have been given an opioid, while 57 percent said they had been prescribed medicine containing barbiturates at some point in their lives.

This finding surprised investigators since many headache and neurology societies recommend triptans for migraine headaches and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for more mild head pain as the first line of migraine treatment. In fact, the American Headache Society’s “Choosing Wisely” campaign specifically states: “Don’t use opioid or butalbital treatment for migraine except as a last resort. “Still the study shows that in most cases it was an emergency room physician giving opioids to patients and general neurologists who were prescribing barbiturates.

American Headache Society president Dr. Lawrence C. Newman told Medscape Medical News, “We’ve known for years that the use of opioids and barbiturates are inappropriate for patients who suffer from migraine for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they induce more frequent headaches if taken in excess.”

Similarly, a separate study headed by Robert Nicholson, director of Behavioral Medicine at Mercy Clinic Headache Center and Mercy Health Research in St. Louis, has found that of the thousands of children given medication for primary migraine or headache disorders, almost one in six were given opioid drugs

The American Headache Society’s press release suggests that not only can opioid treatment be what causes headaches but also the medication can increase the risk of migraines turning into a chronic condition, plus safety issues directly related to the opioid treatment could arise.

The statistics on these often ineffective and potentially addictive drugs may be shocking to many healthcare professionals, especially considering the alternatives to prescription medication available today. The Migraine Treatment Centers of America offers an innovative surgical procedure that provides long-lasting pain relief for people who suffer from chronic, debilitating migraines. Known as the Omega procedure, the minimally invasive surgery has resulted in an incredible 80 to 90 percent success rate in certain types of chronic migraine patients.

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