Morphine patches were developed to keep individuals from growing dependent on painkillers to alleviate chronic pain conditions. However, researchers from the St. Olavs Hospital and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that the patches may not be serving their purpose of preventing addiction.
Since being launched into the market back in 2005, sales of morphine patches in Norway have significantly increased and the researchers found this more a cause for concern than a relief. This is mainly because findings from their study show that the plasters are more often used under the wrong assumptions or incorrectly. This can, in turn, lead to issues of drug dependency, the same ones that the patches are supposed to prevent.
“The reason for this incorrect usage is that there is not enough information out there, and a lack of expertise in individuals who are writing prescriptions,” says Professor Petter Borchgrevink of the Norwegian National Center for Complex Disorders.
The patch is supposed to work in the same way as a nicotine patch for smokers who are trying to quit although the latter reduces cigarette cravings. Morphine patches, on the other hand, are simply designed to reduce pain. Both types of patches, however, contain small doses of their active ingredients.
Morphine patches are recommended for those who require pain relievers in low doses. Ideally, patches allow medication to be more regulated as drug consumption is reduced thereby reducing the risk of dependence in the process. But as it turns out, incorrect usage can actually aggravate the problem.
The research found that the patches were being administered in addition to other drugs instead of working as a substitute. The incorrect use increases the risk of addiction particularly for a large group of patients suffering from chronic pain that did not use morphine-based treatments prior to their use of the patch.
“For some patients, it would be appropriate to give morphine-like drugs for strong chronic pain,” says pain management specialist Professor Stein Kaasa. “The big challenge is to avoid backsliding when it comes to medical indications for the use of the drug; in other words, we don’t want the drug to be given to patients who do not need it.”
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