Advancements in science, research, and technology are always astounding. Who would have thought 20 years ago that handheld computing devices would be as prevalent as they are today? The same is true in the medical industry as new information is learned each and every day that can help millions of people who suffer from pain, both chronic and acute, and continue to lead us down previously hidden avenues for development.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the studies published in 2014 regarding painkillers.

Length of recovery time from painkiller addiction may lead to lower rates of relapse

In December the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine published a report regarding patients who were in recovery from a painkiller addiction. The study indicated that in the days directly following drug withdrawal the patient’s body adjusted their perception of reward and memory. They would experience increased pleasure in response to drugs but their natural response to other pleasurable stimuli, such as food, was decreased.

However, after several months in recovery the study indicated that the body’s reward system began to normalize. The researchers believe that this connection indicates that patients who stay in treatment longer will have better success remaining drug-free once they return to their daily routines. They are hoping this information will lead to fewer occurrences of relapse after treatment programs are complete.

New drug without the uncomfortable side effects of its predecessors

In March, the University of Granada published a report about a new opioid analgesic that doesn’t have the unfortunate side effect of constipation for patients. Drugs such as morphine can help alleviate pain but when it also raises overall discomfort through a side effect as uncomfortable as constipation the benefits can be negated. Researchers noted:

“The prolonged use of opioids causes strong constipation, which is a substantial drawback to their administration, since it substantially diminishes patient well-being.”

This new drug enhances the pain relieving effects of the opioid medication and eliminates the discomfort of constipation. The implications of this research will have potential long-term benefits as medications with fewer negative side effects can be developed to help patients dealing with short term pain.

Prevention of breathing problems for patients using opioid medications

Another side effect concerning breathing was also studied by the American Society of Anesthesiologists and published in their report in August. Some patients taking painkillers experience slight difficulty breathing. A new therapeutic drug may reduce this effect and allow individuals taking opioid medications for pain to breathe a little easier. Respiratory depression among opioid users can lead to brain damage and cardiac arrest. There is also the potential for death in related cases.

In clinical trials the new drug stimulated breathing among patients in the program. There was an increase in respiratory rates and the amount of air expelled in a normal breath. All of these indicate that the new drug could be used in conjunction with opioid painkillers to eliminate the risk of breathing difficulties without reducing the overall effects of the drug. Researchers indicate that an opioid that does not cause these side effects is still years away from being developed so using an additional drug in conjunction with the painkillers is the best solution available at this time.

Social security disability benefits and rates of opioid use

In the September issue of Medical Care, a journal from leading medical publishers Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a study was profiled linking social security disability benefits and the prevalence of opioid use. Among younger disabled Medicare recipients the rates of opioid use was consistent with research that indicates an epidemic in the United States. In 2011, the latest year of research analyzed, the prevalence of this type of drug use among SSDI recipients was over 43%. A single individual may have as many as thirteen prescriptions filled each year and they were often prescribed by multiple doctors.

Researchers are concerned about this trend as opioid medications carry an extremely high risk of dependence and addiction. Ultimately researchers:

[U]rge further studies to assess the clinical outcomes of opioid use by under-65 disabled workers and factors associated with chronic opioid use. They also call for the development of policies and programs that balance safety with high-quality pain management for this complex group of patients.”

Fatal automobile accidents and prescription painkillers

The University of Nebraska Medical Center published a sobering report in August regarding the rates of prescription painkillers as a potential cause of fatalities on the road. The report indicated that, overall, crashes involving intoxicated drivers are decreasing but they are seeing a significant difference in the nature of driver intoxication.

They looked at fatal crashes between 1993 and 2010 that involved drug use for the driver of the car. In the early years of the study one in eight drivers was on multiple drugs at the time of their crash, while in 2010 the numbers increased to one in five. There are also increased incidents of mixing drugs and alcohol among drivers involved in fatal crashes as well as a distinct age break between drivers using marijuana, who were primarily under the age of thirty, and those using prescription painkillers. Thirty-nine percent of the drivers under the influence of prescription drugs at the time of their accidents were 50 or over. Overall, the instances of prescription drugs playing a role in fatal crashes overtook cannabis by the year 2010.

The team at Holistic Pain will continue to review current medical research throughout 2015 and keep our readers up to date on advancements and important information that could lead to big breakthroughs in pain management.

What are your thoughts on these reports and their implication for the use of opioid medication to treat pain?

Image by Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education via Flickr