Morphine is often a go-to prescription for pain management, especially for people who struggle with chronic pain.
In the United States, that’s no small number: About 100 million Americans are living with chronic pain, according to The American Academy of Pain Medicine. Additionally, the FDA reports that about 23 million prescriptions were given for long-acting opiate painkillers in 2011. Though the goal of these prescriptions is to mitigate pain, studies are surfacing that say that these medications can actually make pain worse.
How Can Pain ‘Killers’ Increase Pain?
Over time, the body develops a tolerance to pain medication that is taken daily. More and more of the drug is necessary to provide pain-relieving effects until, eventually, it doesn’t work at all. Additionally, the drug may actually serve to increase the body’s perception of pain due to its effect on the brain. The two phenomena together can actually make pain harder to bear.
Hyperglasia is a condition that occurs after constant use of painkillers make the individual more sensitive to pain. Science Magazine notes that opioid drugs may set off a chain-reaction of inflammation and immune response that actually makes pain worse.
Improving the Efficacy of Morphine
Although use of drugs like morphine can have the effect of worsening pain, there may be ways to make the medication more effective for pain management.
Dr. Yves De Koninck, PhD, at Université Laval in Quebec City, Quebec is the senior author of the study. He says: “Our research identifies a molecular pathway by which morphine can increase pain, and suggests potential new ways to make morphine effective for more patients.”
Called a paradoxical hyperalgesia – a term that describes the reduction in the pain threshold and the development of opiate tolerance – the study was groundbreaking because it identified the specific mechanism of the event in the brain, which in turn served to help identify a way to address the issue.
Dr. M. Salter, PhD, is a full professor at the University of Toronto, Senior Scientist and Head of Neurosciences & Mental Health at SickKids, Canada Research Chair in Neuroplasticity and Pain, as well as co-author of the study. He explains that microglia, specialized cells in the central nervous system, are to blame for the morphine-induced pain.
Says Salter: “When morphine acts on certain receptors in microglia, it triggers the cascade of events that ultimately increase, rather than decrease, activity of the pain-transmitting nerve cells.”
Additionally, a protein called KC22 that is responsible for sensory signals in the brain can be disrupted by the action of morphine which can also contribute to the increase in pain perception. The option to improve morphine’s pain-treating ability? Restore the appropriate sensory perception pathways in the brain without disrupting the analgesic effect of morphine.
These changes may take a while. In the meantime, new treatments for chronic pain are being developed every day, and many of the newer treatments have less side-effects. Currently, morphine and other opioid drugs continue to lead to addiction and even greater chronic pain in the long-term.
Improving Pain Management, Limiting Addiction Issues
If someone you love is having a hard time managing chronic pain while avoiding developing an addiction to their pain medication, there is hope for an addiction-free future. Contact us at Michael’s House to talk about how we can help you or your loved one break free from painkiller addiction.