Short term painkiller use can trigger long term pain – report

© Bassam Khabieh
A breakthrough study from the University of Colorado has found another likely danger lurking in opioids. When used as a short term painkiller, opioids like morphine can double the duration of chronic pain.

Opioid abuse in the US was labelled an epidemic by the White House in February, but that was before researchers learned of the “cascade of reactions” triggered by painkiller use.

Researchers found that the use of morphine actually intensified pain signals traveling from the damaged area to the spinal cord, prompting nerve cells to go into overdrive, which led to prolonged pain.

Researcher Peter Grace wrote in the study that this could have “far-reaching implications for humans,” especially with opioid abuse on the rise. The CDC reported that deaths related to pain medication hit 28,648 in the US in 2014.

The study, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” on Monday, details how researchers found that the nerve cells of rats with nerve damage sent signals to the spinal cord that put the response cells into “alert mode.

When the nerve injury was treated with morphine, the nerve cells then went into overdrive, and pain-responsive nerves increased their activity in the brain and spine, leading to longer durations of pain.

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,” Linda Watkins, a professor at University of Colorado Boulder and a co-author of the study, told the Denver Post.