Chronic pain is a problem many people encounter in their lives. Some say approximately 4 out of 10 people deal with pain on a daily basis. Treating this issue is a long and difficult process. It is difficult for both patients and medical professionals. Reaching for opioids to treat pain is often seen as the only solution. However, we all know that taking them can have an addictive effect on patients.
A new study shows there might be another solution
A recent study conducted at the University of Michigan found that there is another solution for patients suffering from chronic and orofacial pain. Treating those patients with the drug naltrexone in small doses appears to be a good substitute and there is no risk of getting addicted, as with opioid substance use.
What is Naltrexone?
This drug was first used in the 1960s as a substitute for Naloxone, which had a reversing effect on overdose from opioids. Naltrexone in low doses has the ability to help prevent relapses in those who were previously addicted to opioids and alcohol.
Naltrexone for chronic pain
This study marks the first time researchers conducted a thorough and systematic examination of the available literature, even though clinicians used this substance in low doses for a long time in the past. However, they prescribed it off-label and with this research, they can finally have insight into pain treatment with naltrexone.
The research indicates that we have reason to believe that using doses ranging between 0.1 and 4.5 milligrams can substantially help manage pain and that it might be a good idea for patients dealing with this issue to consult their doctors about substituting opioids with naltrexone.
The study recorded that some of the benefits patients had with using this drug are lower levels of pain, reduced usage of opioids, as well as better quality of life.
A new way to look at chronic pain
Traditionally, we qualified chronic pain as pain that is present for longer periods, or an issue that persists even after the trauma or injury has healed. However, professionals in pain management are shifting how they look at this phenomenon. New findings indicate that the way our brain processes pain signals from the body is more significant than the injury itself.
Sensitization is a process that happens after chronic pain becomes our reality. Our nervous system shifts and becomes highly sensitive even if the stimuli are not painful. So we become more prone to feel pain even when a stimulus that shouldn’t be painful affects our nerves.
There is a special kind of cells, the glial cells that play an important role in the process we call sensitization. So how does naltrexone help? The low volume of this drug affects glial cells and reduces levels of pain and lowers the sensitivity over time.
Targeting the cause of the problem, not just treating the symptoms
Clinicians traditionally treated only the aftermath of a trauma or an injury, thus focusing merely on the symptoms. The new findings of the curative effects of naltrexone attack the problem at its root, the nervous system that is overly sensitive. This new approach allows professionals to actually treat diseases, not just mask their symptoms. This could be the beginning of eliminating opioids in pain management.
We see the most benefits when treating centralized disorders caused by the overly sensitive nervous system. Conditions like myalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, and temporomandibular joint disorders (also known as TMJ) can easily be treated with small doses of naltrexone. This drug has proven to have very few side effects and is not expensive. It is important to point out that people who use opioids and alcohol on a regular basis can’t be treated with this drug.
This highly beneficial drug can find its place in dentistry since it helps reduce orofacial pain, which affects the anatomy of the oral cavity. Another reason to incorporate naltrexone in dentistry is that a dentist’s office is commonplace where patients first encounter opioids for pain reduction. Correctly managed opioid treatment of chronic pain still has its place in medicine, however, there is a need for alternative options, and naltrexone looks like a promising one.