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Morphine May Reduce PTSD Risk, Study Shows

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2010 – Injured servicemembers who receive morphine during trauma care are about half as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder as those who are not administered the drug, a Navy study has revealed.

The study found that the use of morphine directly after injury during resuscitation and early trauma care was associated with a reduced risk of PTSD, Troy Holbrook, one of the study’s authors, said. The study was conducted by researchers from the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 14.

Researchers studied 696 injured servicemembers using data compiled from the Navy-Marine Corps Combat Trauma Registry Expeditionary Medical Encounter Database, Holbrook said. Among the patients studied, 243 received a diagnosis of PTSD and 453 did not. Of the patients who received a PTSD diagnosis, 61 percent had been administered morphine. Among those without PTSD, 76 percent had received morphine.

“This can be interpreted to mean that patients who receive morphine after serious injury, during acute trauma care and resuscitation, were about half as likely to develop PTSD compared to patients that did not receive morphine,” Holbrook explained.

Holbrook said more studies are needed to determine the correlation between morphine and the reduced risk of PTSD. “It may interfere with memory consolidation or alternatively may work through mitigation of severe pain, or a combination of both,” she suggested.

Researchers honed in on morphine based on the results of earlier studies that pointed to the drug as a “first-line” defense against PTSD development, Holbrook said. “Our data support the idea the administration of morphine for optimal control of pain and anxiety after injury may reduce the risk of PTSD,” she said.

These findings may not be limited to morphine, Holbrook noted, adding that other, related opiates are likely to have a similar effect. But more research is necessary “to understand the potential impact and importance of morphine use after injury and PTSD risk reduction in the future,” she added.

In the meantime, the study’s findings will be shared with the other services, Holbrook said. The results can be used to develop strategies for PTSD prevention after injury and also to help identify those injured servicemembers at greatest risk of developing PTSD, she said.

Holbrook said she anticipates many more studies on this topic. “The findings have generated great interest among scientists and clinicians,” she said.

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