Opioids may prolong pain?

OxyxontinOpioids like morphine, OxyContin and Vicodin are among the most commonly used—and abused—prescription painkillers in the U.S.

However, a new study claims that these powerful drugs can actually intensify and extend physical suffering.

In a study on opioids, Colorado neuroscientists simulated chronic nerve pain in rats by pinching the sciatic nerve in their legs.

While one group was given morphine for five days, a control group received no treatment. After assessing the rats’ pain threshold, the researchers found the untreated rodents recovered in about five weeks.

The morphine-treated rats, on the other hand, remained in pain for up to 12 weeks, Forbes.com reports.

Morphine and other opioids seem to reshape the nervous system to amplify pain signals even after the original illness or injury subsides, prolonging and worsening discomfort, researchers said.

“We are showing for the first time that even a brief exposure to opioids can have long-term negative effects, said study author Peter Grace.

But in the opinion of Stephen Martin, MD, an associate professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, the study leaves gaps.

Dr. Martin referred to an analysis in Science magazine which he said was a rare outlet that provided the perspective of an independent expert who offered the following indispensable context:

The findings shouldn’t be a basis for withholding opioids from people in pain, says Catherine Cahill, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine.

These drugs also work to block the emotional component of pain in the brain, she notes—a form of relief this study doesn’t account for.

And opioids might not prolong pain in humans the way they did in these rats where the dosing of morphine and its quick cessation likely caused repeated withdrawal that increases stress and inflammation.

Humans usually don’t experience the same withdrawal because they take sustained-release formulations and taper off opioids gradually (hopefully).

We probably don’t know the composition of modern opioids, but morphine, the product of the poppy plant, has a long and good/bad history.

The medicines derived from the seedpods of the poppy plant have been used from antiquity by the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks.

It was the painkiller of choice for European physicians of the 1800s. Morphine has relieved the suffering of countless wounded soldiers, including those in the U.S. Civil War.

But the effects of morphine were unreliable.

An humble German apothecary’s assistant, Friedrich Serturner, was responsible in 1804 for isolating the active ingredient in opium from which—after long disbelief and ridiculing by physicians of the day—predictable and reliable doses could be produced.

As in most things in life, opioids have their beneficial uses—and especially today—the abuses.

Sources include: The Week magazine, Healthnewsreview.org.