NEW YORK — A study has found that prescription painkillers are about three times as effective as sugar pills, a discovery that could help physicians steer patients toward less costly options.
The study was published Thursday in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
The findings, from a large, randomized trial of more than 1,500 patients, suggest that the more effective drugs are in the treatment of chronic pain and are less likely to cause side effects.
The researchers found that the sugar pills were more effective in the control of pain than the other prescription medications, but there were no differences between the two classes of drugs.
The investigators say they plan to conduct further studies to see if sugar pills can also treat other types of chronic disease.
The sugar pill has been available for about a year on the market, but it was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA has not yet approved it.
The drug, called imatinib, is an off-patent drug that uses the body’s own immune system to fight infections.
The Food and Drugs Administration said the drug is safe and well-tolerated.
The American Academy of Pain Medicine, a trade group, said the results should be “a wake-up call to physicians to treat chronic pain with sugar pills or other drugs that are less expensive and that are effective at treating other chronic conditions.”
The study involved researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University at Buffalo in New York, and was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
A spokesperson for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases said the study was part of a larger effort to better understand the relationship between sugar and pain.
“We’re very interested in this new finding that we think demonstrates the importance of the relationship,” said Dr. Rakesh Kochhar, the director of the NIH’s Diabetes and Endocrinology Division.
“But we don’t know exactly how sugar pills affect chronic pain.”
The researchers were interested in the effects of sugar pills because they are the only available form of pain medication in the United States.
There are currently about 20 prescription drugs on the U.S. market, and each has different properties.
The drugs, known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, have become increasingly popular in recent years as people are using them to treat pain, but they are not approved for use in people with chronic pain.
The authors of the new study said that the research indicates sugar pills should be considered first for chronic pain in patients with chronic illnesses because they could be more effective for people who have more severe chronic pain conditions.
“These results highlight the importance for physicians and other health care providers to carefully evaluate the effectiveness of prescription pain medication, especially when prescribing to patients with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, to ensure that their treatment is appropriate and effective for their condition,” Kochhar said.
“If there are any additional findings to discuss, we will share them.”