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Morphine, Opiates Help Prevent PTSD

Posted Jan 14 2010 12:00am

Great article in the NY Times reviewing reseach regarding the possible benefits of being administered morphine or other opiates promptly after a traumatic event, in that the pain killers may interrupt the development of PTSD.  From the article:

In a large study of combat casualties in Iraq, Navy researchers reported Wednesday that prompt treatment with morphine cut in half the chances that troops would develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress later on. Other opiates are likely to have similar effects, experts said.

In previous work, researchers had found that larger doses of morphine given to children with severe burns also reduced post-traumatic symptoms, like flashbacks, depression and jumpiness. These symptoms have become lasting in about one in eight service members returning from Iraq.

The article goes on to caution that we are a long way from advocating immediate morphine administration to anyone involved in any difficult event.  At the very least, however, it does provide avenues for additional research into the development of PTSD, as well as its prevention and/or treatment.  Three possible mechanisms are considered in terms of how opiates interrupt the development of a traumatic response:

The drugs appear to blunt the emotional charge of traumatic memories in several ways. Most obviously, they kill the pain when it is most excruciating; often, they scramble the ability to recall what exactly happened. Opiates also inhibit the production of a chemical messenger called norepinephrine, which is thought to enhance fear signals in the brain.

A very interesting article, I recommend you read the whole thing.

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