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Cheap Addiction Treatment Drug May Relieve Fibromyalgia Pain

Posted Dec 07 2009 5:00am
Researchers at Stanford University conducted a small fibromyalgia treatment pilot study with a drug used to treat drug addiction. The drug, naltrexone, has been clinically used for over 30 years as a treatment for addiction to opioids such as heroin.

Studying low-dose naltrexone as a treatment for fibromyalgia was an idea conceived about two years ago when the study’s lead author, Jarred Younger, PhD, an instructor in anesthesia and pain management at Stanford, began searching for relief for patients with fibromyalgia.

“I was asking patients, ‘Does anything work for you?’” he recalled. “A lot of people in support groups were saying,

‘Yeah, I tried naltrexone and it works for me.’

It just kept coming up.”

The women participating in the study used a handheld electronic device to record their symptoms on a daily basis. They were given a placebo for two weeks and then naltrexone for eight weeks, but were not told when they were taking the drug or the placebo.

Results of the study found that Naltrexone reduced pain and fatigue symptoms an average of 30 percent compared to the placebo.

According to Dr. Younger, using naltrexone as a pain treatment seems counterintuitive since normal doses the drug actually blocks the body’s pain relief systems. However, naltrexone appears to have the reverse effect when given at a lower dose.

“Patients’ reactions were really quite profound,” said senior author Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, associate professor of anesthesia and chief of the pain management division at Stanford University Medical Center. “Some people decided to come off other medications. Some people went back to work really improving their quality of life.”

The drug is particularly promising, the study states, because of the few treatment options available for fibromyalgia patients, its low cost of about $40 a month and its limited side effects. One of the side effects reported by a few participants were experiencing vivid dreams.

However, the research team remains guarded about recommending naltrexone this early on in the research process. Said Dr. Mackey, “People need to understand that while we’re excited about the preliminary results, they are still preliminary, and we need to do longer studies with more patients. There is still a significant amount of work to be done.”

The team is planning a second, longer-term trial that will include 30 participants who will be tested over a 16-week period.

The results of the study were published in the April 17 edition of the online journal Pain Medicine.

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