PTSD Spirituality: Does Early Use of Morphine Reduce PTSD?

Morphine is often administered in cases of combat triage and in civilian emergency rooms.  Typically understood as an opiate that can reduce pain, a recent study suggests that administering morphine soon after intense trauma may prevent PTSD from developing.  Benedict Carey reports that it may even be a sort of “morning-after pill” for the prevention of the onset of PTSD.

In an online article from the New York Times, by Benedict Carey, entitled “Morphine May Help Traumatic Stress,” researchers have proposed that morphine may reduce PTSD.  Please note that this is morphine administered by a medical team in the circumstances immediately following intense trauma, e.g., a burn victim, a wounded soldier.  It is not for meant for self-application.  Morphine should only be taken under a physician’s directions.  And, even then, the side effects are difficult.  So, please don’t self-medicate on your own.  It won’t help.

The research suggests strong reduction in PTSD onset rates for those who were administered morphine in the first few hours following their trauma.

According to research by  the Navy, use of morphine soon after the trauma can cut down the occurrence of PTSD by about 50%. 

Yet there are risks associated with morphine: addiction and the diminishment of memory.

I have always been interested in how fear affects the brain and the soul.  While this research does not deal directly with the soul, it does deal with how traumatic events affect the brain.  The NYT piece states:

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.

The results of the analysis seem to indicate that intervention with an opiate helps prevent the intense fear memories that contribute to PTSD formation.

This research is reported in the New England Journal of Medicine article, “Morphine Use after Combat Injury in Iraq and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” written by more doctors than you can shake a stick at.

They offer the following succinct conclusion:

Conclusions Our findings suggest that the use of morphine during trauma care may reduce the risk of subsequent development of PTSD after serious injury.

Given the current level of research, this information applies only to people who receive prompt interventions in triage or an emergency room.  It does not appear to be directly applicable to Vietnam vets or rape victims who suffered their initial trauma some time a go. 

Yet, there is hope that this will also show benefits to treating established cases of PTSD.  For example, are patients who are treated with chronic narcotic therapy less likely to have PTSD episodes?  That would make a useful study.  Regardless of its use for already established PTSD cases, it is encouraging that we may be able to reduce new onset cases by 50% with physician supervised use of morphine or other opiates.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. Fascinating information! This could really help. I am very happy to see this research. Thanks so much for posting this!
    Queta
    PS-You’ve been prolific lately.

    • Hi Queta! Thank you for taking the time to read the essays. School starts soon so I have been posting fairly regular. I know that once the semester gets going it will keep me hopping. I hope to still post several essays a week when I am back in the teaching mode, but figured I had better get going now and not let this time escape. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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