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New Study Shows that Genes May Influence Response to Painkiller Use and Abuse

Why is it that two people can have the same prescription for an opiate painkiller (e.g., Vicodin, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and others) and one will develop a drug dependence while the other will be able to take it without issue for months on end? It’s a question that has confounded the medical community for decades, and a new study says that the answer may lie more heavily in our genetic makeup than previously thought.


It has always been thought that genetics may play a part in drug addiction but the results of a recent study suggests that that part may be a major role. The Stanford University School of Medicine looked at 120 twin pairs and unrelated participants who were all given a short-acting painkiller. The results suggested a heavy genetic influence: identical twins were more likely to have similar responses to the drug than were fraternal twins or unrelated participants. This says that the genetic makeup of the person may be significant in the development of drug abuse and dependence.

Side Effects

The results of the study were most specific in the effect of genetics on a person’s development of different symptoms associated with painkiller use and abuse. Addiction is just one side effect. Others include:

  • Nausea: 59 percent of participants
  • Itchiness: 38 percent of participants
  • Dizziness: 32 percent of participants
  • Slowed breathing: 30 percent of participants

More findings: about 36 percent of participants did not like taking the drugs and 26 percent did like taking the medication.

Moving Forward in Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction and Treatment

Dr. Martin Angst is one of the two principal investigators in the Stanford study. In a news release, he said: “The study is a significant step forward in efforts to understand the basis of individual variability in response to opioids, and to eventually personalize opioid treatment plans for patients.

“Our findings strongly encourage the use of downstream molecular genetics to identify patients who are more likely or less likely to benefit from these drugs — to help make decisions on how aggressive you want to be with treatment, how carefully you monitor patients and whether certain patients are suitable candidates for prolonged treatment.”

If painkiller abuse and addiction is a problem for you or someone you love, there are comprehensive addiction treatment programs for women here at The Orchid that can help. Contact us today to discuss which one may be most appropriate for your needs.

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