Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder have made an alarming discovery: Administering opioid painkillers to laboratory animals resulted in the animals suffering for three weeks longer than the control group of animals who did not receive painkillers. Additionally, the researchers found that the opioid painkillers caused cells in the animals’ spinal cords to become more sensitive to pain. The researchers’ conclusion: Administration of opioid painkillers can result in chronic pain for the patient.
Their findings corroborate previous similar research that had been conducted in 2016 and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers have yet to determine whether human subjects would experience the same results. More investigation will be needed to answer that set of questions.
These discoveries call into question the primary perceived benefits of opioid painkillers. There can be no doubt that opioids are effective as short-term pain treatments; but is it worthwhile to continue using them if they prolong a patient’s pain and associated recovery time in the long term? Do the benefits of using these drugs truly outweigh the considerable risks and associated problems? These are questions that demand answers, in light of the massive problems opioid drug use can create.
There is a massive opioid drug epidemic underway. This public health crisis is most problematic in the USA, but it has the potential to become a global issue. Opioid drug abuse also affects the citizens of other countries including Australia, Canada and some European countries such as Germany, Portugal, Estonia, Denmark and Austria.
According to the experts at DrugAbuse.gov, somewhere between 21 – 29 percent of US patients who fill legally-obtained prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers end up abusing the drugs. The addictive nature of these substances results in an estimated 8-12 percent likelihood that a patient will become dependent on them. 4 – 6 percent of prescription opioid drug abusers later become heroin users and addicts.
The addictive properties of the drugs are not the only problems they pose. There is also significant risk that patients will accidentally overdose on the drugs and die. In 2015, opioid drug abuse resulted in more than 33,000 deaths in the USA alone.
In Australia, public Medicare covers some or all of the costs of treatments for drug rehabilitation; however, there is currently greater demand than existing supply for effective treatments. This has resulted in long wait times for Australian patients who are seeking drug rehabilitation. To take up the slack, patients are turning to private rehab providers and insurance policies issued by private health insurance providers. Australians in need of opioid drug treatment are advised to perform a health insurance comparison to find appropriate treatments in their area.
In the USA, state governments and policymakers have already taken steps to curb the rampant abuse of legal prescription opioid drugs. The New York Times has reported that the numbers of opioid drug prescriptions are falling, while the numbers of opioid addiction treatments are rising. This is good news indeed; however, in light of the recent research, additional future government intervention may be necessary. If it turns out that opioid drugs do prolong pain and recovery times in humans, current opioid drug prescription policies will need to be re-evaluated yet again.