One size does NOT fit all when it comes to medicine: Genetic study finds wide variation in risk of addiction when opioids are used for chronic pain

Chronic pain often pushes people to use opioid painkillers such as morphine and Vicodin, which may leave sufferers with an increased risk of prescription opioid addiction. Millions of Americans see their doctors for chronic pains, and doctors, in turn, resolve to prescribe these medications for immediate relief. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) are currently in the works of developing an effective treatment for 80 percent of pain patients with the least risk of addiction while causing minimal damage to the 20 percent who are at the most risk.

Opioid pain relievers are known to cause addiction, but they still remain to be the only means of treating moderate to severe pain complaints for many years. About two million Americans are affected by opioid-caused disorders, which is also the leading cause of accidental death. Avoidance of opioid prescriptions, however, is a bit problematic with the lack of alternatives that do not include invasive procedures such as surgery.

Dr. Janet Robishaw, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Science in FAU’s College of Medicine received a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to solve the “one-size-fits-all” approach to prescribing opioids for chronic pain. Genetic variants, however, is a difficult hurdle since there is currently too little data on clinical characteristics that gives off the properties of opioid use disorder. Together with colleagues from Geisinger Health System and the University of Pennsylvania, Robishaw and her team of researchers are assessing the clinical and genetic characteristics of a large number of patients suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain who are also receiving prescription opioids. Characteristics to identify include clinical, genetic, and neural aspects of patients to be able to create a universal painkiller that will not increase the risk of addiction of patients, but all the while addressing the pains which patients feel.

As of now, a universal, one-size-fits-all painkiller is far from reality, given the different characteristics each person has. The uniqueness of each individual makes developing a treatment that can be used for everybody a very problematic process. Many other studies are currently developing different ways to treat chronic pain to remove western medicine’s reliance on opioids and other kinds of painkillers. Some even go far as exploring marine life to create a painkiller alternative, and it’s so far doing well. Many other natural methods help mitigate the pain, and some healthcare professionals even suggest changing lifestyle habits to prevent the pain in the first place.

Creating a single opioid drug that addresses all kinds of chronic pains in different people is not exactly what the world needs — it’s more research on the causes of chronic pain. Many sufferers of the condition have been known to seek medical advice for pains that are not really extreme, but they still go home with prescription opioids that are not entirely necessary.

Natural solutions to pain include drinking lots of water, fish oil (which reduces inflammation pain), vitamin D from the sun or foods, and plants such as meadowsweet and willow bark. Other methods from the other side of the world include acupuncture and acupressure, as well as exercises like yoga and tai chi to increase the body’s flexibility thereby reducing the risk of chronic pain.

Sources include:

comments powered by Disqus