Itching is one of the most prevalent side effects of powerful, pain-killing drugs like morphine, oxycodone and other opioids. The opiate-associated itch is so common that even women who get epidurals for labor pain often complain of itching. For many years, scientists have scratched their own heads about why drugs that so effectively suppress pain also induce itch.
Now in mice, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown they can control opioid-induced itching without interfering with a drug’s ability to relieve pain. The discovery raises tantalizing possibilities for new treatments to eliminate itch in cancer and surgery patients as well as others who rely on opioids to relieve chronic and severe pain.
The investigators report the findings Oct. 14 in the journal Cell.