Friday, January 15, 2010

Morphine shows promise against post-traumatic stress disorder

Studies find that troops who got the powerful painkiller when injured were about 50% less likely to develop PTSD than those who didn't. The findings offer hope for preventive treatment.

Early administration of morphine to military personnel wounded on the front lines during Operation Iraqi Freedom appears to have done more than relieve excruciating pain. Scientists believe it also prevented hundreds of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, the debilitating condition that plagues 15% of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That conclusion is based on findings published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. They suggest that a simple treatment can stop a single horrifying event from escalating into a chronic, incapacitating illness.

Small clinical trials and observational studies have hinted that opiates and other medications could disrupt the way the brain encodes traumatic memories, thus preventing the incidents from being recorded with too much intensity. The new findings -- troops who received morphine within a few hours of their injuries were about 50% less likely to develop PTSD than those who didn't get the powerful painkiller -- are a strong endorsement of that theory.

The results underscore the potential for preemptive treatment not just for soldiers, but for victims of war, natural disasters, physical abuse, violent crimes such as rape, and traumatic accidents.