By now we are all learning that opioids are not drugs to be taken lightly. There are potential serious negative health effects that come with taking these strong pain killers. They really only should be reserved for cancer related chronic pain and just about nothing else. On top of all we already understand a new study has concluded that taking opioids increases the risks for a serious infection.
Opioid medications, particularly long-acting or high-dose opioids, may increase the risk for serious infections, including invasive pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia, according to a study published online February 13 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Previous studies have shown, in animals, that opioids suppress the immune systems ability to function. The drugs interfere with the production of bacteria-killing immune cells, reduce the innate immune response, and inhibit the production of antibodies and cytokines. This new study strengthens the evidence that the immune-suppressing effects of opioids extend to humans.
The study’s authors examined Medicaid opioid prescription data in Tennessee and compared them to laboratory-confirmed cases of invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD). Patients with IPD had higher odds of current opioid use than control patients. The associations were even stronger for long-acting, high-potency, and high-dose opioids. One limitation of the study is that it did not measure actual opioid use, only prescriptions for the drugs. So at best we can call this a correlation not exactly a causation, based solely on his study. When I look at this study added to previous animal and the few other human studies that exists is sure does add up to a strong possibility that opioids suppress the immune response in humans who take them.
How many more reasons do we need before we decide that these drugs should be a last resort only option for non-cancerous chronic pain. I mention the non-cancerous part because chronic pain due to cancer is difficult to treat any other way but with these medications, and unfortunately, if a patient already has cancer the side effects of taking an opioid may be the least of their worries. For back pain, or any joint pain, opoiods should be considered only when nothing else is working, that nothing else needs to include chiropractic care. If you go back to this post on the VA and chiropractic you will see that in the VA system they have been successfully treating chronic pain patients through alternative means including chiropractic to help reduce their opioiod prescription rate.