Prescription pain pill abuse is a serious problem in the United States. Unfortunately, my home state, Kentucky, is not exempt from that issue. In fact, Kentucky is one of the leading states in terms of prescription pain pill abuse. One big problem is the availability of these prescription drugs and a lack of understanding of their dangers. Many people, especially teens, feel that because these are prescribed medicines, they are safer than street drugs and less addictive. This simply isn’t the case. The University of Kentucky is partnering with law enforcement to try to stem the tide of prescription drug abuse in our state.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky recently studied the habit-forming properties of a commonly prescribed pain killer, Tramadol. This was a double blind, placebo controlled study with 10 participants completing the study. Participants were given 12 doses of a possible combination of placebo, tramadol, naltrexone and hydromorphone. Hydromorphone is a common opioid pain reliever. Naltrexone is an opioid receptor blocker which is used to negate the affects of an opioid drug. After the participants took their dose the following were taken into account: ” self-reported measures, observer-reported measures, ocular measurements (such as pupil dilation) and performance tasks”
Researchers expected the naltrexone to equally negate the effects of both the tramadol and the hydromorphone in this study. To their surprise, this wasn’t the case. The patients who took tramadol and naltrexone still reported feeling a “high”. Those who took hydromorphone and naltrexone did not feel the high. According to their press release, lead study author William W. Stoops of the UK College of Medicine Department of Behavioral Science, the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research (CDAR) and the UK College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology said, “When we’ve given them placebo and the opioid receptors are not blocked, tramadol and hydromorphone produce fairly similar effects. They make subjects say that they’re high, they make subjects say that they like the drug, those kind of things. Tramadol does produce some bad effects; folks are saying that it makes them a little nauseous so it is a little distinct from hydromorphone in that manner, which is important. When we gave folks naltrexone, when we blocked those opioid receptors, hydromorphone didn’t produce any effects, it was like we’d given them placebo. It completely blocked the effects of hydromorphone because the primary way hydromorphone works is on the opioid receptors in the brain; they’re blocked so of course hydoromorphone isn’t going to produce an effect. With tramadol, we did not see anywhere near the blockaded effect that we saw with hydromorphone. We need to test a higher naltrexone dose to confirm that this is the case.”
What this study shows with results like these is that the street value of tramadol may make it more likely to be abused. However, to get the “high” feelings associated with tramadol, participants had to take much higher than standard doses which also produced negative side affects like vomiting and nausea. They have also showed that there is more to tramadol than was earlier thought and that there is more to it than what other typical opioid drugs may have to offer.
Kentucky recently passed some very strict new guidelines for prescriptions drugs which have already put some pain clinics out of business. As more pressure is put on the highly abused drugs like hydrocodone, other drugs like tramadol may sneak its way in. If you or someone you know is addicted to pain killers, visit http://www.drugfree.org/ to find resources for help.