Opioid use disorder linked to chronic pain

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Scientists have long noted a connection between opioid use disorder (OUD) and chronic pain, however, brain mechanisms linking OUD and chronic pain are poorly understood.

A recent study from The Ohio State University examined one potential mechanism—central sensitization—among individuals with OUD.

Central sensitization refers to abnormal pain processing in the brain and spinal cord.

People with central sensitization have spinal cords that are unusually good at sending pain signals to the brain, and brains that struggle to turn off those signals once they arrive.

This means people with greater central sensitization tend to suffer more pain than others.

In the study, the researchers examined 141 study participants from Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s addiction treatment center in Columbus, Ohio.

Participants also responded to questions about pain interference, quality of life and items regarding pain beliefs and expectations of pain and addiction treatment.

Chronic pain may lead to OUD, and people with chronic pain and OUD have a harder time quitting opioids than people with OUD only.

The team found that greater central sensitization was associated with worse quality of life among patients with OUD.

Additionally, patients higher in central sensitization were more likely to report pain as a major reason for why their opioid addiction first began, as well as for putting off addiction treatment, continuing and increasing their use of opioids, and fear of pain-causing OUD relapse in the future.

This study suggests central sensitization may be an important underlying factor complicating the treatment of chronic pain and OUD.

This provides an example for other clinicians and researchers to measure central sensitization in OUD, which could help them produce better treatments for people suffering from chronic pain and OUD.

The research was published in the journal PAIN Reports and conducted by Dr. O. Trent Hall et al.

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