(BOSTON) -- For the first time, research has compared the safety of some of the most commonly used painkillers. And the drugs that raised the biggest questions? Opioids -- the regularly prescribed class of painkillers that include Vicodin and OxyContin.
In two new reports published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that opioid users experienced higher rates of serious problems than patients taking other types of painkillers, such as coxibs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs.
The use of hydrocodone, brand name Vicodin, and oxycodone, brand name OxyContin, nearly doubled between 2001 and 2006. Doctors said a major reason for the spike came from noncancer patients taking the painkiller.
And last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of fatal opioid poisonings more than tripled from 4,000 to 13,800 deaths between 1999 and 2006.
In the first report, researchers collected Medicare data between the years 1996 and 2005, including information from more than 31,000 older Americans who had been prescribed an NSAID, coxib or opioid. The report found that opioid users experienced higher rates of cardiovascular problems and fractures than patients taking other types of painkillers.
In the second report, the authors compared the rates of serious problems occurring after 30 and 180 days among patients taking one of five opioids: codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, propoxyphene and tramadol. They found that patients taking codeine or oxycodone were about twice as likely to die from any cause compared with patients taking hydrocodone, an opioid similar to oxycodone and stronger than codeine.
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