Opioid addiction increases the risk for a number of physical and psychological problems in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study has found.
The study, “Impact of opium dependency on clinical and neuropsychological indices of multiple sclerosis patients,” was published in the journal Neurological Sciences.
Opioids, a class of drug first derived from the poppy plant, are powerful painkillers; as such, they are sometimes prescribed to people with MS to help them cope with pain. However, these therapies can be highly addictive, and this addiction — itself considered a neurological disease, like MS — can cause a multitude of physical, social, and mental health problems.
In the study, researchers sought “to investigate the impact of opium addiction on depression, anxiety, and cognitive and clinical indices in MS patients,” they wrote.
The team recruited 40 people with MS who were addicted to opioids (mean age of 34.18 years), and 40 people with MS, but who weren’t addicted to opioids (mean age of 33.53 years), to their center in Iran. Both groups were similar in terms of age and sex.
Participants underwent a series of psychological and clinical tests. Results showed that, on average, MS participants addicted to opioids had significantly more anxiety, as measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory — 58.49 vs. 48.05 in MS patients without opioid addiction.
Opioid-addicted patients also had significantly worse executive function, as measured by the Wisconsin Card-Sorting Test and the Mini-Mental State Examination, and significantly higher scores on a word-pair learning test in which higher scores are indicative of poorer working memory.
In addition, opioid-addicted participants had significantly higher fatigue (measured by the Fatigue Severity Scale), and significantly lower scores on the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite, which is indicative of a greater functional impact on the participants’ lives.
There were no significant differences between the two groups regarding depression (as assessed by the Beck Depression Inventory), or in disability (as measured by the Expanded Disability Status Scale).
Taken together, “the results of this study showed that rate of anxiety, fatigue, and some neuropsychological disorders might increase following opium dependency in MS patients. Although, no significant effect on the disability progression was seen,” the researchers wrote.
This is a relatively small study, however, conducted at one center, so caution should be taken when interpreting the results, the team noted.
Still, according to the team, the data showed the profound impact that opioid addiction can have on people with MS, supporting the notion that both diseases — MS and opioid addiction — should be treated with the best possible care.