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Painkillers & Men

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New research shows a link between taking prescription pain medications such as hydrocodone and oxycodone and sexual problems in men.

"There is a substantial risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction and needing to take medication for erectile dysfunction," says Dr. Richard Deyo of Kaiser Permanente Care for Health Research.

Researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research looked at the medical records of more than 11,000 men with back pain. They found men taking high-dose opioids were 50% more likely to receive prescriptions for ED than men who did not take prescription painkillers.

"Certainly low testosterone is one reason this happens and it turns out that opioids actually affect the pituitary gland and other organs that actually make sex hormones."

Sales of opioid painkillers have quadrupled in recent years. About 4 million adults in the U.S. use the medications on a regular basis.

Dr. Deyo says there are alternative treatments for people with chronic pain.

"A combination of a tailored exercise program and what's called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is really just aimed at reducing fear of movement and fear of normal daily activities."

Researchers say the men in the study experienced problems after taking painkillers for more than 3 months. They advise patients talk to their doctor before starting any long term medication. 

There is increasing evidence that using opioids long term can also lead to addiction, overdoses, sleep apnea, and falls in older adults.

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