A new opioid may speed up patient’s recovery time without the risk of chronic pain or increased pain sensitivity, and it could mean promising advances in the prevention of chronic pain as well as curbing opioid prescription rates.
Typically, when a patient is prescribed an opioid medication like morphine, it’s very effective at combating pain at first. However, these medications can make people more sensitive to pain over time, which not only means they’re less comfortable but also increases the chance of developing chronic pain.
Researchers at Tulane University and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System developed a new opioid type.
The medication doesn’t increase pain sensitivity, reducing the likelihood of ongoing opioid use for chronic pain.
Blocking the Transition from Acute to Chronic Pain
One of the big problems health care providers face when it comes to treating patients’ pain is preventing it from becoming chronic. There is a potential for an acute event, such as pain from surgery, to become chronic. Treating chronic pain is complex, often ineffective and can increase the chance of opioid addiction and dependence.
Chronic pain can lead to negative impacts in all areas of a person’s life. Chronic pain can cause loss of energy, depression, anxiety, fear and a sense of anger. When someone deals with chronic pain, not only does treatment often rely on long-term opioid use, but many people become unable to function in their daily life.
The belief with the new opioid drug is that it could block that transition from acute to chronic pain. The medication currently being tested speeds up recovery time but has the same pain-relieving abilities as morphine.
Promising Acute Pain Relapse Reduction Rates
Anywhere from 8 to 18 million people in America take opioids for chronic pain. Health care providers have to carefully weigh the risks of having these patients cut back because doing so can lead to a diminishment in functionality and quality of life. These risks, however, have to be weighed against the risk of addiction and overdose that occur with opioid use. Additionally, long-term opioid use is associated with anxiety and depression. Often, these medications stop working to treat pain, at which they continue to be used to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
The new opioid drug, which is called ZH853, may be able to reduce the likelihood of someone needing long-term opioids for chronic pain. The new opioid has been tested on rats. Rats treated with morphine recovered more slowly than rats given a placebo, leading researchers to believe opioids could actually hinder recovery following an injury. Researchers say morphine stimulated pro-inflammatory compounds that increased pain.
The new opioid pill didn’t have this effect. In fact, the drug led to a faster pain recovery time. In some instances, recovery time was cut in half compared to both morphine and a placebo.
When someone experiences an injury leading to pain, the natural opioid system starts working to prevent that pain. When the opioid system is blocked by an opioid drug, the underlying pain can return after the injury heals. That effect is a contributor to chronic pain. With ZH853, the underlying pain was eliminated instead of being covered.
Better, Safer Treatment for Pain
Opioid use for chronic pain is a source of ongoing debate in the United States, as the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives. Researchers who are studying the new opioid say that it’s important to treat chronic pain as a central nervous system disorder and take care of the underlying causes, instead of just treating the symptoms. Current opioids are effective in the short-term, but because of their effects on the immune system and inflammation, they can increase the risk of chronic pain.
Neurology MedLink. “New opioid speeds up recovery without increasing pain sensitivity or risk of chronic pain.” May 21, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2019.
Brannon-Tulane, Keith. “New Opioid Has Speedier Pain Recovery Than Morphine.” Futurity, May 21, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2019.
Joseph, Andrew. “The chronic pain quandary: Amid a reckoning over opioids, a doctor crusades for caution in cutting back.” STAT, May 30, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2019.