Harvard Men's Health Watch

In the journals: Have osteoarthritis? Careful with narcotic painkillers

Older adults who are prescribed narcotic medication for osteoarthritis pain are at higher risk of falls and bone fractures, says a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers examined the medical records of more than 13,000 people with arthritis, covering the period 2001 to 2009. This overlaps the time period in which the pain relievers rofecoxib (Vioxx) and valdecoxib (Bextra) were pulled from the market over cardiac safety concerns.

The first choice to treat osteoarthritis pain is usually acetaminophen (Tylenol, generic brands) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). However, people may turn to narcotic medications if these options don't control the pain adequately. The trouble is that narcotic painkillers can cause sedation and confusion, so they are riskier for older people, who can get into serious health trouble if they fall and fracture a major bone weakened by osteoporosis. The study highlights the fact that these drugs should always be used with caution, especially in people already at risk of fractures.

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