Latest studies have shown that narcotic painkillers are linked to chronic pain development. According to the preliminary results of the study made on rats, the narcotic painkillers actually trigger a nervous response that prolongs pain for a few months, thus inducing chronic pain.
The side effects of painkillers have been discussed over and over, their dark side seeming to be greater than their benefic effects. Until now, they were blamed for causing addiction, abuse, and death by overdose. However, in the light of recent findings, their effects may be explained by the fact that they were triggering the pain that the abusers wanted to treat.
Linda Watkins a Distinguished Professor and Peter Grace, her Assistant Research Professor assembled a team of researchers from Australia’s Adelaide University, North Carolina University, the Academy of Sciences in China, the Drug Abuse National Institute, the Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism National Institute, and Beijing’s Tsinghua University in order to closely monitor the effect of narcotic painkillers on the physiology of rats.
According to the paper that was published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” on the 30th of May, the opioid-based pain medication triggers a response in the glial cells that leads to the development of chronic pain.
In order to reach these conclusions, the researchers damaged the peripheral nerves of a sample of rats and then treated one group with narcotic painkillers. It seems that after only five days of treatment, the glial cells were so excited, that they went into a kind of override.
This “malfunction” of the nervous cells triggered a multitude of additional problems, including an inflammation of the spinal cord.
The cascade of problems created by the overexcited glial cells combined who a subsequent opioid treatment produced an interleukin-1 beta-cell signal. The signal, in consequence, increased the excitability of pain-responsive nerve-cells in the brain and spinal cord. The result is chronic pain that lasts for months.
“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,” declared Dr. Watkins.
In 2015, approximately 20,000 adult Americans died due to overdose of prescription narcotic painkillers.
The team is currently on a method to block glial cells receptors when an opioid treatment is needed. The technology thy are using is called DREADD.
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