The opioid epidemic that is currently plaguing the United States is no longer a secret; millions of citizens across the nation are struggling with an addiction to the prescription painkillers. One of the primary defenses for these often-harmful drugs is that so many people take them to relieve unyielding and insufferable pain.
But what if these drugs aren’t actually helping those people either? Furthermore, what if these drugs actually make pain worse?
A research team from the University of Colorado Boulder discovered just that; opioid painkillers can actually exacerbate chronic pain, and may also prolong the condition that they are supposed to be healing. Perhaps this is why the use of prescription pain relievers like oxycodone and hydrocodone have quadrupled since 1999 — in less than 20 years.
The dangers of opioids simply cannot be overstated. Estimates suggest that over 2 million Americans alone suffer from an opioid addiction, and another half a million people struggle with heroin addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 80 percent of heroin users report that their addiction began with opioid pain relievers. Thousands of people receive urgent medical care for accidental or intentional misuse of these dangerous drugs. On top of that, opioids contribute to up to 60 deaths per day, according to some statistics. (Related: Big Pharma spent $880 million fighting against state opioid restrictions.)
Many people take these drugs daily in an effort to combat chronic pain, but the study from Colorado University Boulder suggests that this could indeed be more detrimental than anything else. In fact, the research team even surmised that “prolonged pain is an unrealized and clinically concerning consequence of the abundant use of opioids in chronic pain.”
The study, which was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that in rats, opioids prolonged and increased chronic pain.
The research revealed that just five days of treatment with morphine led to chronic pain that persisted for several months. What the team found was that the drug treatment provoked pain signals from the rats’ microglia — which are a type of immune cell that is specific to the central nervous system.
One interesting aspect of the microglia is their ability to respond to changes in sensory activity and potentially influence neuronal activity acutely and long-term — even in mature brains. A team of researchers from the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institute of Health, noted in their 2011 paper that, “Microglia seem to be particularly involved in monitoring the integrity of synaptic function.”
Given that these cells seem to be especially intertwined with the central nervous system, it would be particularly concerning to learn that opioids trigger microglia into action. The team from the University of Colorado Boulder also noted that the microglia play an “important role” when it comes to pain management.
In their abstract, the researchers commented, “These data also provide strong support for the recent ‘two-hit hypothesis’ of microglial priming, leading to exaggerated reactivity after the second challenge, documented here in the context of nerve injury followed by morphine. This study predicts that prolonged pain is an unrealized and clinically concerning consequence of the abundant use of opioids in chronic pain.”
The potential for opioids to actually worsen pain has been a known effect of the drugs for quite some time now. The condition even has a name: opioid induced hyperalgesia, or OIH for short. Some of the symptoms of OIH include an expanding region of pain, decreased pain threshold, increased sensitivity to painful and non-painful stimuli, and worsening pain despite the ingestion of an increasing number of opioids.
Many studies have described this phenomenon, with research on this apparent side effect of opioid administration dating back to the 1970s. And yet, in spite of this knowledge, somehow these drugs have been pushed on the public en masse.
See PrescriptionWarning.com for more news coverage of the dangers of prescription medication.