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Montefiore in the News

October 19, 2017

First Large, Randomized Study Highlighting Non-Opioid Alternative Offers Superior Pain Relief and Could Help Curb Opioid Epidemic

NEW YORK (October 19, 2017) – New data from researchers at Montefiore Health System shows that patients seeking care for migraine in the emergency department experience better pain relief from the non-opioid treatment intravenous (IV) prochlorperazine along with diphenhydramine, compared to the frequently used opioid treatment IV hydromorphone. These findings, published in the October 18, 2017 issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, are particularly important given that the nation is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with 91 Americans dying every day from an opioid overdose.

Each year migraine patients seek pain relief in U.S. emergency departments (ED) 1.2 million times, and opioids, including hydromorphone, are used to treat migraine in more than 50 percent of all ED visits. Montefiore Emergency Medicine physician Benjamin W. Friedman, M.D., M.S., and colleagues conducted a randomized, double blind study comparing the use of IV hydromorphone with the non-opioid treatment option of IV prochlorperazine along with diphenhydramine, to prevent the common side effect of restlessness, in 127 patients who visited the ED. The majority of patients experienced sustained headache relief, reporting a headache level of mild or none within two hours of taking the medication. In addition, they maintained that level for 48 hours without needing any additional medication, with the use of the opioid alternative. In fact, almost double the number of patients who received prochlorperazine experienced lasting pain relief, compared to the opioid (hydromorphone) recipients.

“Ours is the first randomized study to demonstrate that it is not appropriate to administer the opioid, hydromorphone, as a first line therapy for patients with migraine,” said Dr. Friedman, who is also Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Vice-Chair for Clinical Investigation in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Montefiore. “Given the national trend of opioid dependency and abuse, we hope more clinicians feel encouraged by our findings and will consider more effective non-opioid therapies for migraine management in the ED.”

As is typical in double blind clinical trials, researchers did not know which patients received the non-opioid and which received the opioid until after the study was done. They conducted follow-up calls with patients 48 hours, one month and three months after the ED visit to determine if patients had sustained migraine relief, or if they had experienced recurrent headaches after the visit. They also asked about return visits to the ED and the effect of migraine on patients’ daily lives. Investigators found that there were similar longer-term outcomes between both groups, including a comparable number of headache days, return visits to the ED and ability or inability to function in daily life.

“Our study clearly shows there is no benefit to using the opioid hydromorphone as first-line treatment for most migraine patients in the ED,” said Dr. Friedman.

It is estimated that over two million Americans have a problem with opioids, and more than six out of ten drug overdose deaths involve an opioid.