Flipping The Script: How A New Study May Overturn Centuries Of Thought On Opioids And Pain Management
Opioids have been used by humans in one form or another since literally the dawn of time, at least the dawn of recorded, human time. The poppy was known as a painkiller in ancient civilizations, with everyone from ancient Sumerians and Assyrians to ancient Egyptians, Romans and eventually Chinese at one time or another taking part in using the opium poppy for recreational as well as pain relief purposes.
And as medicine has modernized, we have developed new, more refined versions of the drug, like morphine, fentanyl, methadone and oxycodone for use in severe pain management. Despite this, we still don’t really know all that much about how opioids work–since they simply have been assumed to for thousands of years, much new testing was never seen as being terribly necessary.
But with opioid abuse reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. in recent years, some researchers are looking at the way opioids work with new eyes.
One such study posits that it may just be that opioids worsen pain rather than making it better.
A paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA shows that morphine can exacerbate pain in rats on a persistent basis.
“The medical community has recognized that opioids can cause abnormal pain sensitivity–termed opioid-induced hyperalgesia–but the sensitivity was only understood to occur while opioids were still present in the body,” said lead study author Peter Grace in an Alternet article. “The surprising new twist is that morphine can increase pain for months after the opioid has left the body.”
Green and his colleagues studied rats who were induced to have neuropathic pain–caused by damaged nerves–and then given either morphine or saline. Their findings were surprising to say the least, if not to them:
“As we expected, the neuropathic pain due to sciatic nerve constriction continued for another four weeks in the rats that had received the saline control,” Grace said.” But for the rats that had received morphine, the neuropathic pain continued for 10 weeks. The five-day morphine treatment more than doubled the duration of neuropathic pain.”
Interestingly, morphine did not have the same pain promoting effects by itself, that is if it was administered without the presence of neuropathic pain. This means that the pain cannot be explained away as morphine addiction or withdrawal.
The implications are indeed immense, in a nation awash in oxycontin and other opioids that are tearing apart the very fabric of the country.
Because as we are taught in the U.S., if you have pain, you take medicine for it until it goes away.
Nobody said what to do if the medicine itself is making the pain worse.