Targeting the Brain’s Painkilling Region Could Eliminate the Need for Opioids, Scientists Say

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have identified the section of the brain that relieves pain — opening the door for new non-addictive pain treatments that may be able to tap into this brain region to relieve pain. Opioids like oxycodone and morphine are already highly effective at reducing pain, yet these drugs are also highly addictive, and contributing to the thousands of drug overdose deaths driving the U.S. opioid crisis.

Harnessing the Brain’s Painkilling System


The new study was published in the journal eLife, and led by Dr. Ben Seymour of Cambridge University. Seymour explains that the human brain allows us to experience a form of “healthy pain” that warns us when we do things that could potentially cause further harm, such as lifting heavy objects while recovering from a muscle injury. Persistent pain is meant to motivate humans to rest and recover so the body can reserve and use energy for healing.

For the study, researchers recruited a group of volunteers and attached metal probes to their arms designed to heat up and cause pain without burning. The volunteers were then instructed to figure out how to cool down the temperature of the probes while having their brain activity monitored by the researchers. They discovered that the volunteers who had to work harder and longer at cooling down the probe to reduce pain actually experienced less pain than the volunteers who found the challenge easy.

The Cambridge researchers theorize that the brain reduces pain as an incentive for humans who work hard at finding ways to achieve pain relief naturally. Seymour further explains that the study results reveal how and why the brain reduces pain in certain circumstances, which could help scientists develop new treatments that turn on the pain region without the use of addictive drugs like opioids.

Finding Pain Relief Without Opioids

Opioids kill thousands of Americans every year due to their ability to trigger euphoria, tolerance, and dependence. Even those who use opioids for legitimate medical reasons can become dependent on and addicted to the drugs, and face the risk of overdose. If you or your loved one is currently using opioids for pain relief, use the drugs exactly as directed by your doctor to reduce the risk for addiction and overdose.

Non-addictive alternatives to opioids are now becoming more widely used and accepted as doctors and scientists look for new ways to treat pain and reduce opioid use. Acupuncture has become more popular and is now being offered by more health insurers, while scientists continue working hard at developing non-addictive painkillers that won’t put users at risk for overdoses. Other studies are even finding that over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen may be just as effective at reducing pain than opioids in the emergency room.

If you or your loved one has become addicted to opioids, understand it’s not too late to get help and quit using. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can become healthier and achieve mental clarity before opioid use leads to an overdose.

Where to Get Safe Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction can be safely treated at an inpatient or outpatient drug detox center. A drug detox center can help you withdraw from heroin, fentanyl, and all other painkillers, and teach you numerous ways to stay sober and manage compulsive behavior to avoid drug use.

Since opioids affect the brain differently than most other drugs and substances, withdrawal can be difficult and severe to manage by yourself if you don’t get help at a drug detox center. Symptoms like insomnia, nausea, and opioid cravings can be severe to the point you relapse and start using again, which puts you at higher risk for an overdose. But drug detox centers use medications like methadone and buprenorphine that can eliminate withdrawal symptoms to make your recovery more comfortable and pain-free.

Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) for help with finding the nearest opioid detox center in your area. Our experienced addiction counselors will answer all your questions about opioid detox, and help you find a nearby detox center ready to help you achieve improved health and lifelong sobriety.

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