Morphine Found to Help PTSD Victims

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds morphine and other opioids are effective in treating PTSD, particularly right after the traumatic event.

In a large study of combat casualties in Iraq, Navy researchers reported Wednesday that prompt treatment with morphine cut in half the chances that troops would develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress later on. Other opiates are likely to have similar effects, experts said.

In previous work, researchers had found that larger doses of morphine given to children with severe burns also reduced post-traumatic symptoms, like flashbacks, depression and jumpiness. These symptoms have become lasting in about one in eight service members returning from Iraq.

The results of the study could have wider-ranging impacts -- such as with victims of rape and muggings. The study is here. It concludes: [More...]

In conclusion, our findings suggest that the use of morphine after serious injury may be a first-line defense against the development of PTSD. Furthermore, the effect of morphine observed in our study may not be specific to morphine and is likely to be seen with other, related opiates. Our data support the idea that the administration of morphine for optimal control of pain and anxiety after injury may reduce the risk of PTSD.

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    IMMEDIATELY after injury (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by diogenes on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:38:35 PM EST
    Beta blockers do this too.  The key is that it is immediately after the injury, so I don't think that too many people who claim to be already suffering from PTSD are going to be able to demand "medical opiates" that they could smoke (a la medical marijuana) years after the fact.  It isn't clear whether you even need IV opiates or whether hefty oral doses or skin patches would do the trick.  The key is probably that you feel no pain immediately after and thus do not crystallize traumatic memories as much.  

    bad headline (none / 0) (#2)
    by diogenes on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:41:30 PM EST
    Also, the headline should read that morphine is found to help TRAUMA victims (to avoid developing PTSD); you do not get a diagnosis of PTSD until months after the trauma.  If you already have PTSD, this evidence says nothing supporting the use of morphine.  I

    correct, sort of (none / 0) (#3)
    by dws3665 on Thu Jan 14, 2010 at 01:14:56 PM EST
    A person can be diagnosed with PTSD one month after the traumatic event (but not before -- PTSD symptoms are quite common in the first several weeks after a traumatic event).

    From a methodological perspective, this was not an intervention study. That is, they did not randomly assign trauma-exposed vets to "morphine vs. no-morphine" conditions, which limits to a degree the confidence with which you can draw conclusions about the results. It was based on archived data on patients who did/did not receive morphine post-trauma, and whether they ever developed PTSD was the outcome. There are certainly other differences between the groups regarding why the treating physicians did or did not prescribe morphine.

    However, it is an interesting study that generates some intriguing hypotheses about both the use of opiates (which marijuana is not) in acute trauma patients and the importance of memory consolidation as a predictor of PTSD development.