Scientists find new cause of negative side effects in opioid painkiller use

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In addition to possibly developing opioid use disorder, those who take opioids long term, including patients who have been prescribed the drugs for pain relief, can develop chronic inflammation and heightened pain sensitivity.

In a new study, researchers found that some of those side effects might be influenced by the body’s own immune system, which can make antibodies against the drugs.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy and elsewhere.

In the study, the team aimed to find out whether long-term opioid users produced antibodies against the drugs.

They analyzed blood samples were obtained from 19 patients who used either hydrocodone or oxycodone for chronic back pain and from three control patients who used over-the-counter remedies (OTCs) or non-pharmacologic approaches.

The researchers found anti-opioid antibodies in the blood of 10 people who regularly took prescription opioids for chronic lower back pain and almost none were found in those who used OTCs.

The larger the dose of an opioid, the larger the antibody response. The antibody responses were found in people who were taking large doses for as little as 6 months.

The scientists say that modified proteins are known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) could form when hydrocodone or oxycodone metabolites react with a carbohydrate.

AGEs have been implicated in diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, and they might help explain chronic inflammation in long-term opioid users.

One author of the study is Cody J. Wenthur, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

The study was presented at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting & Expo.

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