Study: Naltrexone can replace opioids in treating chronic pain

A new study from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry has found that low doses of naltrexone can be a non-addictive alternative to opioids for patients with orofacial and chronic pain.

Study author Elizabeth Hatfield, a clinical lecturer in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Hospital Dentistry, said that while naltrexone has been used off-label to treat chronic pain, this study was the first to do a systematic review of the literature to determine whether or not the drug is a good option to treat pain, and whether or not it deserves further study.

“We found a reduction in pain intensity and improvement in quality of life, and a reduction in opioid use for patients with chronic pain,” Hatfield said.

Naltrexone is a semisynthetic opioid developed as an oral alternative to the opioid antagonist naloxone. At high dosages, 50 to 100 mg, naltrexone blocks the effects of alcohol and opioids.

With this study complete, Hatfield said she hopes to move on to a randomized control trial of low-dose naltrexone.

In low doses (0.1 mg to 4.5 mg), naltrexone acting on a cellular pathway in the nervous system to deliver pain relief, Hatfield said.

“Low-dose naltrexone begins to address the cause of pain and not just mask it, which allows us to better target diseases causing chronic pain, as well as potentially consider pain control outside of opioid use,” Hatfield said.

Liz Carey

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