|NIDA Begins Its First-Ever Public Discussion
on Pain Relief and Addiction
“Who is most at risk for addiction to pain killers?” and “How
do you balance getting adequate pain relief with the risk of addiction?” were
only two of the many questions discussed at today’s Pain, Opioids,
and Addiction: An Urgent Problem for Doctors and Patients conference,
sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part
of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). More than 500 researchers,
clinicians and interested consumers gathered on the NIH campus
to discuss the growing problem of prescription painkiller abuse
and the potential for addiction in patients with chronic pain conditions.
The conference is being held in collaboration with the NIH Pain
Consortium and the American Medical Association.
“This meeting brings together experts on both the research and
clinical sides to discuss issues surrounding both the benefits
and risks of prescription pain relievers, and to look at best practices
that minimize the risk of addiction,” said NIH Director Dr. Elias
A. Zerhouni. “It is part of our ongoing commitment to use the best
science available to inform medical practice.”
“We are meeting to discuss how scientific research can contribute
to safer solutions for patients in need of pain relief,” said NIDA
Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, who gave welcoming remarks at the
conference. “With high rates of non-medical abuse of opioid pain
relievers, particularly among young people, we view this as an
The 2006 Monitoring the Future Survey, funded by NIDA, showed
that one in ten high school seniors have used the painkiller Vicodin
for non-medical purposes in the past year, with high rates for
other prescription drugs as well. Today’s conference participants
looked at how adolescents’ motivations for opioid abuse can predict
other kinds of substance abuse. In addition, scientists discussed
the brain mechanisms underlying both pain and addiction and how
a genetic variation that alters how some people respond to stress
can make them more vulnerable to addiction.
The increase in opioid abuse may be due in part to the growing
numbers of prescriptions written for narcotic pain relievers, such
as Vicodin and Oxycontin. However, when used properly, prescription
opioids can have many beneficial effects, helping those suffering
from chronic pain to lead relatively normal and productive lives.
Because abuse of and addiction to opioid medications in the context
of chronic pain is not well understood, scientists will be discussing
this among other issues. For example, attendees today heard that
when prescribed for cancer pain, opioids might have less potential
In parallel, scientists are trying to develop new ways to treat
pain without the risks of abuse and addiction. On Tuesday, for
example, there will be more discussion about the development of
a newer generation of pain relievers devoid of tolerance or dependence.
They will also discuss real-time functional magnetic resonance
imaging (rtfMRI) as a tool to allow patients to better manage their
own pain, through the actual visualization and control of brain
activity in regions associated with pain processing.
A full agenda and speaker list is available at: http://conferences.masimax.com/opioid/index.cfm
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National
Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects
of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large
variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research
information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact
sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and further information
on NIDA research can be found on the NIDA web site at http://www.drugabuse.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.