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Low-Dose Naltrexone Used as Alternative to Opioids for Chronic Pain Patients

February 16, 2021

A low dose of naltrexone was found to be a promising alternative to opioids prescribed for patients with orofacial and chronic pain, according to a new study from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. The study was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

"We found a reduction in pain intensity and improvement in quality of life, and a reduction in opioid use for patients with chronic pain," study lead author Elizabeth Hatfield, a clinical lecturer in the university’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Hospital Dentistry, said in a news release.

A low dose of naltrexone, defined in the study as between 0.1 and 4.5 mg, acted on a unique cellular pathway in the nervous system to deliver pain relief in lieu of opioids. Hatfield explained in the release that chronic pain leads to a sensitization process in the body, and that low-dose naltrexone targets cells that keep the nervous system sensitized, reducing the pain threshold and sensitivity of the nervous system over time. Whereas traditional pain management focuses on the site of injury or trauma, the naltrexone treats the overactive nervous system.

The study conducted by the University of Michigan researchers was based on a literature review of eight articles selected from 793 previously conducted studies obtained in the researchers’ initial search. The articles included case reports (4), clinical studies (3) and a randomized control trial. Data was included on fibromyalgia, chronic regional pain syndrome, and multiple pain-related diagnoses.

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