In 2005, morphine patches were introduced in Norway in the hopes of reducing the use and abuse of painkillers. However, researchers have found that the patches are often used incorrectly, which can lead to addiction.
Like a nicotine patch, the morphine patch releases small, steady doses of medication over a long period of time, which is good for patients who need low doses of pain-relieving medication. Ideally, this was meant to help reduce drug consumption and control the use of the medication, which would result in fewer cases of dependence. But with so many people using the patch incorrectly, the effect is just the opposite.
“The reason for this incorrect usage is that there is not enough information out there, and a lack of expertise in individuals who are writing prescriptions,” said professor Petter Borchgrevink, head of the Norwegian National Centre for Complex Disorders. When Borchgrevink and professor Stein Kaasa of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology started to research the actual use of the patches, they found that the patches were often being given in addition to other drugs, instead of being used as an alternative to habit-forming medications. “This increases the health burden and the risk of addiction,” said Borchgrevink.
People using the patch for pain that is not associated with cancer can end up with major addiction problems—especially those who are using multiple addictive medications simultaneously. “Experience from other countries, including Denmark, shows that the large consumption of morphine and similar drugs by people with chronic pain that is not caused by cancer can provide significant problems with addiction,” said Kaasa.
The study researched which patients were being given prescriptions for the patches, as well as what other kinds of medications were being used along with the patch. It was found that half of the patients were given more than one prescription, 90 percent had used morphine-based medications before, and more than 60 percent used other—often addictive—drugs in addition to the patch.
Professor Svetlana Skurtveit at the Institute of Public Health said that in a year, sales of the patch have doubled, and they continue to skyrocket. She hopes that the results of this study will raise awareness of the addictive dangers of the patch, saying, “Our findings may have special significance for countries that don’t yet have a morphine patch on the market.”
Source: Science Daily, Painkiller Patch Can Lead to Addiction, May 17, 2009