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07-18 Research finds that opioid treatment can increase overall pain

Research finds that opioid treatment can increase overall pain

New research reveals an unexpected danger of chronic pain treatment for those with spinal cord injuries: According to a study published just this year, the combination of an injury and opioid medication to treat the pain can damage the cells of the spinal cord and result in increased pain.

Related research has further suggested that only a few days of opioid pain treatment can lead to chronic pain that lingers for months.

The treatment fueling the problem

In 2015, scientists tested nearly 7,000 nerve damage patients catalogued as “opioid naive.” The term signified a patient had not filled an opioid prescription at least one year before being discharged from a hospital and receiving a prescription for pain management.

Researchers followed up with the patients a year later and found opioid usage augmented pain signals sent from immune cells to spinal cord cells called microglia. Patients discharged with an opioid prescription were five times likelier to be opioid dependent after one year.

A 2016 study on rats suggests that the one-two punch of morphine and nerve injury results in prolonged pain that has become an “unrealized and clinically concerning consequence of the abundant use of opioids in chronic pain.”

Study author Linda R. Watkins, Ph.D., warns, “The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting. … This is a very ugly side to opioids that had not been recognized before.”

This is not the first time research has shown medications were conversely exacerbating the very conditions they aimed to treat.

“A newly published clinical trial on adolescents and antidepressants demonstrated most available prescriptions for depression gloss over the mental health problems in youth and may actually be inhibiting our children.”

A way around the problem

Pharmacogenomics is the inventory of how individuals’ genes are complimented, can be antagonized or have no effect altogether as it concerns specified medications. Not too long ago scientists discovered that individuals’ particular genes could, in fact, be incompatible with certain drugs; with the drugs having zero benefit or even counterintuitive damages to the person.

There is no such thing as a blanket treatment. Thus, pharmacogenetics testing is being lauded as a valid approach to identify patients’ predisposition to particular medication. It could alert an individual to detrimental physiological responses to opioids or antidepressants, for example, before any dependency arises or damage is done.

A third study recently published demonstrates pediatric pharmacogenomics can proactively personalize medical treatment. The study also highlights pharmacogenetics could also include “developmental changes to therapeutic responses across different age groups.”

That study’s authors explain for adolescents, “genetic influence is occurring on the background of the major physical and developmental changes that occur from conception, through birth to adulthood, and that genetic influence may vary between each stage of development. New approaches to pharmacogenomics … enable the identification of the key gene(s) that are related to drug action.”

Sovereign Health in Rancho San Diego treats teens 12-17 with substance use disorders in addition to co-occurring mental illnesses. We understand lasting recovery has to address the mental and emotional – not just the physical. It also has to be tailored to each individual and flexible for those formative years. Call our 24/7 helpline to learn more of our customized treatments.

About the author

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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