LONG-TERM use of common painkillers can cause obesity and poor sleep, university researchers have found.

Commonly prescribed painkillers such as opioids, used in the treatment of migraine and lower back pain, should be prescribed for shorter periods of time to cut the risk, according to the Newcastle University study.

Over the past 10 years, prescription of medications such as opioids and some antidepressants for chronic pain management has doubled.

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Scientists analysed more than 130,000 patients and their findings, published today in the academic journal Plos One.

The study found that people using opiates and cardio-metabolic drugs reported 95 per cent rates of obesity and 82 per cent ‘very high’ waist circumference, as opposed to those on cardio-metabolic drugs only.

The experts say he results show that chronic pain medications should be prescribed for shorter periods of time to limit serious health complications.

Dr Sophie Cassidy, Research Associate at the Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University at co-author of the report, said: “In the last two decades there has been a significant increase in the number of people being prescribed both opioid and non-opioid medications to treat chronic pain.

“However, this is the largest study looking at the links between commonly prescribed painkillers and cardio-metabolic health.

“We already know that opiates are dependency-forming but this study also found patients taking opiates have the worst health”.

Dr Cassidy added: “Obesity rates are much higher and the patients reported sleeping poorly.

“These results add further weight to calls for these chronic pain medications to be prescribed for shorter periods.”

As well as being addictive, opioids lead to weight gain by acting as a sedative, which makes patients less active, and they also alter taste leaving a craving for sugar.

They are also known to worsen snoring and untreated sleep apnoea.