The Trauma Lines Blog

Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists

Morphine to Prevent PTSD?

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One of our recent posts titled “Prevention: An Emerging Frontier in Mental Health” brought to light some of the latest research efforts by both the mental health industry and the U.S. military to prevent post-traumatic stress.

While PTSD certainly isn’t the only area of focus that this blog has and will concentrate on, we couldn’t help but share the results of a new study. Furthermore, the results of this study coincide with something that trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk mentioned in our last post.

According to research conducted by the U.S. Naval Health Research Center, administering morphine to military personal immediately after sustaining serious injury could help to prevent the development of PTSD. According to Van der Kolk, the idea of treating PTSD with opiates has been around for decades.

The U.S. Naval study, referred to as “provocative” by the Associated Press, followed about 700 troops between the years of 2004 and 2006:

“It was surprising how strong the effect of the morphine was,” said study leader Troy Lisa Holbrook, an epidemiologist at the naval center. The findings were published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

From the New York Times:

“This idea that medicine can be used in the wake of a trauma to diminish the risk of developing a significant psychiatric disorder is incredibly important,” said an expert who was not connected with the study, Dr. Glenn Saxe, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Refugee Trauma and Resilience at Children’s Hospital Boston who conducted the studies on burn patients. “If the findings hold up,” he said, “the implications are huge and go well beyond the military” — for example, to civilian hospitals, where victims of rape and other terrifying ordeals may benefit.

While this one study has seen some success with the administration of morphine, the experts are quick to note that the use of narcotics to treat and/or prevent PTSD has big-time drawbacks:

Dr. Saxe and other experts cautioned that any benefit must be stacked up against the drugs’ risks: they are habit-forming with repeated use, and can blur memories of events that can be life-changing.

What makes the idea of using a drug like morphine to treat PTSD controversial — besides the addictive drawbacks — is that to date, the “official” means of treatment for post-traumatic has merely involved cognitive therapy.

I’m sure there are some differing of opinions on this topic, and we’d love to hear them — leave us a comment!


Written by traumalines

January 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm

One Response

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  1. […] To this point, PTSD has typically been treated with cognitive/behavioral therapy, not with substances. Back in January of 2010, we even wrote a post that discussed the notion of morphine to prevent PTSD. […]

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