It has been found that narcotic painkillers in fact tend to increase the sensation of pain in rodents.
Painkillers have their shadow side which they cast on those who take them on a regular basis. The surge in their usage and the problem of addiction to these drugs seem to have cropped up all of a sudden.
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Besides people abusing these painkillers, overdoses that kill thousands every year is another issue that needs to be resolved. You can see it in the news channels everyday in the United States.
Well, as Ronald Reagan said “you ain’t seen nothing yet”…narcotic painkillers tend to increase the duration of the pain in rodents as several experiments have shown.
Morphine, an opiate, has the effect of causing chronic pain to shoot up in rats in the lab. This obviously carries immense lessons for human beings. The novel study showed that even a couple of days of morphine treatment caused pain that just would not stop for months on end.
This was due to an aggravation of the release of pain signals from certain immune cells in the spinal cord. It shows that the global “pain epidemic” that we are facing today is the result of an over-prescription of these painkillers.
Even small doses of these opiates for short periods of time may trigger a stress reaction where pain becomes the norm. So paradoxically what was meant to be cured becomes a sort of permanent disease that just won’t go away.
Peripheral nerve injury in rats causes signals to be relayed from the harmed nerve cells to spinal cord immune cells (also termed glial cells). These glial cells act as agents that sweep out all the debris inside the cells. The very first signal of pain sends glial cells into a critical mode of operation. They are now ready for action.
It is like switching on a dimmer in the spinal cord. Spinal cord inflammation is the normal result. The pain is equivalent to hitting someone in the face. The second time you do it, it won’t be tolerated by the person on the receiving end.
As for the glial cells, they go into overdrive and the pain neurons become rogue-like in their behavior. This is indeed the dark side of opiates and it shows that there is more to pain killers than the fact that they kill any signals of pain.
At least 20,000 Americans died last year from overdoses of opiates that were meant for pain relief. The only silver lining is that the researchers have found ways of blocking receptors on glial cells that recognize opiates.
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A paper on this study was published on May 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.