March 31, 2009

Oxycodone may ease acute pain of shingles

The painkiller oxycodone is effective in dulling the acute discomfort of shingles, an illness that often causes agony in sufferers, U.S. researchers say.

The study, published in the April issue of the journal Pain, evaluated different methods to relieve pain during a course of shingles, which many patients say is the worst they have ever experienced.

Study leader Robert Dworkin of the University of Rochester Medical Center and colleagues studied 87 shingles patients in Rochester, N.Y., and Houston. The participants were divided into three groups and received oxycodone, gabapentin or placebo.

Patients, whose average age was 66, had moderate to severe pain. All patients also received an antiviral medication, which is standard treatment for patients with the infection.

The researchers said that patients taking oxycodone were more than twice as likely to experience a meaningful reduction in their pain -- at least a 30-percent decrease -- compared to their counterparts taking a placebo, Dworkin said.

Though the medication was effective, nearly one-third of the participants on oxycodone withdrew from the study, mainly because of problems with constipation. Dworkin said his team was surprised that gabapentin did not appear useful to treat pain.