Opioid Painkillers May Actually Increase Chronic Pain

A new study has found that repeated use of narcotic painkillers can actually increase chronic pain, instead of alleviating it. Opioid-induced hyperalgesia is associated with the continued use of opioids such as morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone. People taking these drugs on a long-term basis can become increasingly sensitive to noxious stimuli, even after a painful response to stimuli that was previous non-noxious. Some animal studies have shown that this can occur after one high dose of opioids.

Long-term use of opioids for chronic pain conditions can also increase people’s sensitivity to certain types of pain, called hyperalgesia. Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia discovered that hyperalgesia can develop in people who abuse methadone. For this reason, the researchers say that people may need to be weaned off of opioids completely, in a medically monitored way. For example, people taking opioids for migraine headaches could actually be increasing their pain by taking the opioids.

David Clark, MD, of the Palo Alto VA Health Care System in California, said that this study is important because it shows that patients with chronic pain who use opioids are equally at risk for this sensitization as addicts and drug abusers. He said that chronic use of opioids seems to sensitize patients to pain, suggesting factors that could limit the clinical use of using opioids for chronic pain control, as well as add to problems in people being treated for addiction.

Dr. Stephen F. Grinstead of Behavioral Health Central writes the the growing amount of people who are undergoing chronic pain management need safe, effective pain relief, which is leading to research for developing new treatment modalities. Because some patients don’t do well with opioid therapy alone, methods involving non-opioid and non-pharmacological treatment should be explored.

Source: MedScape Today, Janis Kelly, Long-Term Opioid Use May Increase Sensitivity to Pain