Common antidepressants interact with common opioid medication to lessen pain relief, study finds

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Findings could help explain certain apparent opioid drug-seeking behavior and opioid overuse

CLEVELAND -- Common antidepressants interact with the opioid pain medication tramadol to make it less effective for pain relief, according to a study from University Hospitals (UH). These findings have important implications for the opioid epidemic, suggesting that some patients suspected of drug-seeking may in fact be under-medicated and just are seeking more effective pain relief. They also could help explain why some people exceed the prescribed dose of tramadol, increasing their risk of addiction.

The study was published in the journal Pharmacotherapy, https://accpjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/phar.2269

Researchers reviewed the medication records of 152 patients at UH Cleveland Medical Center and UH Geauga Medical Center who received scheduled tramadol for at least 24 hours. All participants in the study were admitted as inpatients or observation status. Those patients who also were taking the antidepressants Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine) or Wellbutrin (bupropion) required three times more pain medication per day to control “breakthrough” pain throughout the day, when compared with patients not taking those antidepressants.

“As we looked at in secondary analysis, it ended up being four times as much over their entire hospital stay,” said Derek Frost, a pharmacist at UH and lead author of the study.

Previous studies with healthy volunteers have shown effects on blood levels when combining tramadol with these particular antidepressants. However, this is the first study to document the effects of this interaction in a real-world setting with patients.

“We knew that there was a theoretical problem, but we didn’t know what it meant as far as what’s happening to pain control for patients,” Frost said.

What explains the interaction between tramadol and these antidepressants?

“Tramadol relies on activation of the CYP2D6 enzyme to give you that pain control,” Frost said. “This enzyme can be inhibited by medications that are strong CYP2D6 inhibitors, such as fluoxetine, paroxetine and bupropion.”

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