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Western University research sheds light on link between PTSD and opioid addicition

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. AP Photo / Toby Talbot

Researchers at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University have released new findings on two very timely topics.

The study, recently published by researchers, proved that recalling traumatic memories increased the rewarding effects of opioids, and the neurological link between post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD) and opioid addiction.

READ MORE: Death Dealing: Who uses opioids in London?

At the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University, associate professor Steven Laviolette, said the research was aimed at identifying mechanisms in the brain that might explain why when recalling a traumatic memory associated with PTSD might make someone more vulnerable to the addictive properties of opioid drugs.

Dr. Laviolette explained to 980 CFPL that opioid-class drugs have effects on users like reducing anxiety and have shown an ability to alleviate many negative emotional aspects of recalling traumatic memories associated with PTSD.

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Dr. Laviolette said that it creates a “vicious circle.”

In a release by Western University, it says that more than 60 per cent of those who live with PTSD also struggle with addiction problems.

“You have this very dangerous combination of the dependence-producing effects of opioids,” Dr. Laviolette said. Recurrent, traumatic memories associated with PTSD can lead to a vicious cycle. The recall of traumatic memories causes PTSD patients to take more opioids, and taking more opioids exposes patients to the risk of addiction.

Linking preclinical models of both PTSD and addiction, researchers looked at receptor transmissions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, specifically dopamine receptors.

READ MORE: Death Dealing: Opioids aren’t the problem

“We were able to identify how transmission through these receptors not only regulate the recall of traumatic memories but how in turn that might be linked to sensitivity of the rewarding effects of opioid class drugs of abuse,” Dr. Laviolette said.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres.

Rodents were used in part of the research. Researchers found that when the D4 receptors in the rodents were blocked, it made memories that would be usually non-traumatic become traumatic, which led to an increased preference for morphine (an opioid class drug).

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They also showed that blocking the D1 receptor led to blocking the traumatic memory recall, and diminished the euphoric feeling and rewarding effect from using morphine.

Dr. Laviolette says there are two important implications from the results.

READ MORE: Death Dealing: What London is doing about opioids

The first is that there are potential pharmacological advancements that could be developed to aid those with opioid addiction problems in addition to their PTSD.

The second is that the data, along with diagnostic screening and testing, will be key to a more accurate identification process for those living with PTSD, who may be at a greater risk to the addictive properties of opioid-class drugs.

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