Genetics Influence Response To Opioid Painkillers, Spur Addiction

Opioid Painkillers | Just Believe Recovery PA

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Genetics Influence Response To Opioid Painkillers, Spur Addiction

A thorough review of scientific findings on opioid painkillers reveals that a specific mutation, found in certain individuals, may affect their response to opioid painkillers. That is, they don’t receive the same amount of relief as some others, and their medication may require altered management to be effective.

The review was presented at the Touro College of Osteophathic Medicine, as part of Touro College Research Day on May 3, 2016. The program was organized by the Touro Research Collaborative.

As with all medications, there are standard doses typically used for opioids. However, research has shown that individual patients react differently to them – apparently based on key genetic differences.

Priyank Kuma, PhD, Assistant Professor and Head of Laboratory Research at the Touro College of Pharmacy:

“Some people don’t seem to respond as well, and doses need to be raised in order to have adequate pain control, but that increases the risks of side effects, including addition.”

Approximately 60 studies were reviewed over a decade. Researchers examined a gene variation on an opioid receptor, called a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP. A mere difference of one non-standard neucleotide exhibited a decrease sensitivity to opioids. It also appears to contribute to other side effects such as addiction.

In layman’s term, a slight gene mutation may mean the difference between realistic pain relief or the patient chasing the dragon, so to speak.

What is to be gained from this? Dr. Kumar and his research team are pushing for the advent of genetic testing. That is, persons who present with this mutation should probably be reconsidered before prescribing opioid painkillers for chronic pain:

“Genetic testing is done routinely when treating illnesses like cancer, and many medications are designed based on this information. But for pain medications, such genetic testing is not popular.”

With the skyrocketing rates of overdoses by opioid painkillers, this knowledge could help prevent certain patients predisposed to addiction by expanding awareness and reconsidering medication and dosage.


“It will help us in designing a better pain management regime for the patients with . Genetic testing may explain and predict many of the clinical responses seen with opioids medications, and may help the clinician identify those patients at genetic risk of opioid misuse and addiction.”

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

Related: Do Brain Changes Contribute To Alcoholism?

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