BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Painkillers can actually prolong pain, according to a new controversial study. The research revealed that morphine does not only make pain worse, but can even double its duration. Given how opioid-based painkillers are used in treating chronic pain, this discovery comes as a shock. A paper on the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on May 30.
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder conducted the study on rats. Mice suffering from chronic pain were given morphine for five days. Scientists discovered that the mice then suffered extended pain sensitivity. This pain lasted for up to three months. Researchers found that opioid painkillers activate spinal immune cells, and this causes a further inflammatory response. Because the pre-existent pain is transitioned to a chronic state, the pain gets more severe and also lasts longer.
At first, morphine does indeed provide pain relief, but over time, the positive effect diminishes.
However, further studies should be conducted to see whether painkillers have the same effect on humans as well. The experiment on rats is the first to demonstrate that these drugs have, in fact, the opposite effect of what they should be doing.
About 20,000 Americans have died from overdosing on prescription opioid painkillers in the year 2015. Because opioids have now been shown to further increase chronic pain in rats, this could have implications for humans as well. If painkillers can actually prolong pain in patients who are turning to these drugs as a last resort, what are the long-term consequences?
Other recent studies showed that physical therapy patients who are taking opioid-based painkillers actually recovered faster without the drugs. This means that pain relievers may not be that effective in treating long-term back pain. Opioids can contribute to long-term chronic pain because it affects the spinal cord and immune cells, researchers believe.
The study was funded by a number or international organizations, such as the American Pain Society, the Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
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