Even in the midst of the deadly opioid addiction epidemic that grips our nation, there’s one claim from Big Pharma that has never been challenged… That opioids relieve pain better than anything else after surgery.
But a new study finds it’s not true. When you take opioids following an operation, you not only risk addiction. The drugs may actually prolong the pain.
Doctors in hospitals prescribe opioids to millions of post-surgical patients each year. And in an animal study, researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center looked at just how effective this common medical practice really is.1
They performed a surgery known as laparotomy on male rats. Thousands of American patients get this procedure each year. It involves making a large incision through the abdominal wall. It is done to find the cause of stomach pain or bleeding.2
Following surgery, the researchers divided the animals into four groups:
- One group received the human equivalent of a moderate dose of morphine for seven days and then were weaned off.
- The second group received morphine for eight days before being weaned off.
- The third group was given morphine for 10 days and then the drug was stopped abruptly.
- The fourth group acted as a control and was given saline injections but no painkilling drugs.
Opioids Caused More Post-Operative Pain
Before the experiment started, the researchers tested the rats’ sensitivity to touch. They also tested spinal fluids for the activity of genes related to inflammation. Inflammation leads to pain.
At the end of the experiment, the researchers tested the animals again. They found:
- The animals that received morphine for any period of time had post-operative pain for at least three additional weeks compared to the rats given just saline.
- The longer the morphine was given, the longer the pain lasted.
- Tapering of morphine made no difference.
Dr. Linda Watkins is a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She is senior author of the study.
Dr. Watkins said the research shows that opioid painkillers may cause post-operative pain to last far longer than it would otherwise.
“(In addition to addiction,) there is another dark side of opiates that many people don’t suspect,” she said. “An unusually high number of people end up with postoperative chronic pain. This new study lends insight into one explanation for that.”3
Dr. Watkins explains that morphine after surgery has a counterintuitive effect. It actually increases pain by affecting glial cells in the brain.
They direct the brain’s inflammatory response. Both surgery and morphine trigger glial cells to react.
“With that second hit (morphine), the primed glial cells respond faster, stronger, and longer than before, creating a much more enduring state of inflammation and sometimes local tissue damage,” said Dr. Watkins.
The researchers recently published their work in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia.4
5 Ways to Minimize Your Pain After Surgery
Prior to surgery, talk to your doctor about non-opioid pain relief. We previously told you about research published in JAMA that found over-the-counter pain relievers often work as well or better than opioids. And you won’t risk an addiction.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists recently published recommendations to limit opioids after surgery:5
- Take opioids as a last resort for extreme pain only. Medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can manage pain and soreness.
- Realize that soreness and discomfort after surgery are normal. They usually improve within a day or two. These sensations are different from pain, which is typically sharp or intense.
- After surgery, try to be clear when asked if you are in pain. Specify if you are sore, uncomfortable, or in serious pain.
- If you have extreme pain, ask that an opioid prescription be limited to a small amount, such as five pills.
- If you do take opioids, take them only for a day or two… three days at most.
The group also recommends that if you have continued severe pain after surgery, talk to your doctor about alternative pain management. These could include a nerve block, epidural, massage therapy, or special exercises.
Editor’s Note: Opioids are not the only medications with side effects that can wreck your health. We list others in our special report, The Top 10 Dangerous Pharmaceutical Drugs—And Their Natural Alternatives. It’s an important read for you and your family. Get all the details HERE.
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