Opiophobia–the fear of painkillers–has created lots of grief for both patients and doctors. (See "No Relief in Sight," January.) A new animal study by a Tufts University anesthesiologist provides evidence that the fear of creating drug dependence or tolerance is keeping patients in pain unnecessarily. In a study involving rats, Dr. Stuart Dunbar found that steady doses of narcotics are better for pain relief than the common practice of giving short doses of painkillers and then waiting for the pain to become severe before giving another dose.
While Dunbar stresses that his research cannot at this point be definitively extrapolated to humans, his work suggests that the conventional approach of creating drug-free periods may make patients even more sensitive to pain.