Researchers find way to lower pain and opioid use

Researchers from Indiana University discovered that combining an epilepsy drug with morphine can lower patients’ opioid prescriptions. The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study authors believe their findings will help aid neuropathic pain, a condition that affects the arms and legs because of nerve tissue damage. Lead author Fletcher White, Ph.D., noted that there is currently a large deficiency for neuropathic pain treatments.

Testing it out

The researchers used rats to discover that morphine normally loses its pain-relieving effects after three weeks. However, when the researchers combined morphine with carbamazepine, a drug used to help prevent seizures, the pain-relief effects did not wane.

Though morphine is one of the oldest and most effective ways to reduce pain, the medication and other types of opioid drugs can be highly addicting for patients. They also have several side effects, such as constipation and nausea. Sometimes, these drugs can even increase pain, which is known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia.

The wrong choice

In these cases of hyperalgesia, doctors will assume patients have built up a tolerance to the drug and increase their dosage.

The story of doctors who overprescribe opioids to their patients is certainly not new. The National Institute on Drug Abuse stated that between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for opioids increased from approximately 75.5 million to 209.5 million. Often, patients will begin with pain and it will lessen over time. However, a tolerance can build that will cause greater dosages and potential addictions. Once addicted, patients might visit several different doctors to get a higher dosage without raising a red flag.

The researchers believe this condition occurs because morphine attaches to the cells that help reduce pain but also to the neurons that activate pain. The study authors found a sodium ion channel in previous research that caused pain. However, another researcher previously found that the epilepsy drug could reverse the channel’s effects.

Moving forward

The Indiana University researchers hope that their findings will prevent doctors from upping patients’ dosages in hopes of reducing their pain.

White noted that despite opioids being an effective treatment, they have detrimental effects, most notably addiction.

Both medications were approved by the Federal Drug Administration separately, and now physicians are combining the drugs and reporting positive results. White and his researchers are now testing the combination of morphine with a drug similar to carbamazepine to measure the results.

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