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Why Prescription Pain Pills Could Accelerate Chronic Pain

By Sandy Schroeder

Stories about pain prescriptions are everywhere. But new research raises a new question, asking if pain pills actually lengthen and make chronic pain worse.

New research in lab rats, from the University of Colorado in Boulder, shows opioids increase chronic pain in rats, according to reports in

If future research on humans confirms this effect, it could mean pain pills are not only addictive, but may set off a vicious cycle in which pain pills take over and make the chronic pain worse.

Looking Closer

This research on rats showed a five-day treatment of morphine caused chronic pain that lasted several months as the treatment triggered the release of pain signals from immune cells in the spinal cord.

Researchers said they found the treatment was adding to the problem. Even a short opioid treatment created long-term negative effects on pain.

“The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting,” said professor Linda Watkins of CU-Boulder.

What Can Happen

According to, taking painkillers over a long period of time may increase a patient's sensitivity to pain. Ongoing use of opiate painkillers reduces the ability to handle pain, causing patients to increase their doses of pain pills. This, in turn, can lead to fatal overdoses. physicians explain how the deadly cycle works. The brain responds to the pain medication, increasing the number of receptors for the drug, and nerve cells in the brain shut down. The body stops producing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and uses the opiates instead. The loss of nerve cells in the brain creates a physical addiction to the opiates, creating withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped.

The studies on humans that follow will be closely watched, as we all see the effects of opiate addiction in our neighborhoods and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 15,000 Americans died in 2011 as a result of opioid overdose.

At every level, from teens exposed to street drugs, to seniors dealing with chronic pain, the questions and effects of opiates are generating more attention.

If you have questions about painkillers, for yourself or your family, see your doctor and discuss the issue. Your local chiropractor, The Joint Chiropractic, can provide additional information on natural, drug-free ways to deal with pain.  


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Blue and Yellow Pills by Michael Wong is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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