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Do Post-Surgical Opioids Actually Lead to Chronic Pain?

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Giving opioids to animals to quell pain after surgery prolongs pain for more than three weeks and primes specialized immune cells in the spinal cord to be more reactive to pain, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The authors say the paradoxical findings, if replicated in humans, could have far-reaching implications for patient pain management and add a new wrinkle to the conversation about the national opioid epidemic.

“This indicates that there is another dark side of opiates that many people don’t suspect,” said senior author Linda Watkins, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. “It shows that trauma, including surgery, in combination with opiates can lead to chronic pain.”

For the study, Watkins and co-author Peter Grace, then an assistant research professor at CU Boulder, performed exploratory abdominal surgery, or laparotomy, on male rats. A similar procedure is done tens of thousands of times annually in the United States in humans, and opiates are routinely used after surgery.

“Opiates are really effective for acute pain relief. There is no drug that works better. But very little research has been done to look at what it is doing in the weeks to months after it’s withdrawn,” said Grace, now an assistant professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

In one experiment, half the rats were given the equivalent of what would be a “moderate” dose of morphine in people for seven days postsurgery. Half were given a saline solution.

In another experiment, the rats were given morphine for eight days and then tapered off by day 10. In a third, the animals were given morphine until day 10 and then it was abruptly withdrawn.

Before and after the treatments, the researchers measured the animal’s sensitivity to touch as well as activity of genes that express inflammatory proteins in the spinal cord.

They found that rats given morphine experienced postoperative pain for more than three weeks longer. The longer they received morphine, the longer their pain lasted. And gradual tapering made no difference.

“This tells us that this is not a phenomenon related to opioid withdrawal, which we know can cause pain. Something else is going on here,” Grace said.

Watkins describes that something as a “one-two hit” on specialized immune system cells called glial cells in the central nervous system. The first hit, the surgery, stimulates what she calls the “not me, not right, not OK” receptor, Toll-like receptor 4 on the cells, igniting the release of a cascade of inflammatory proteins and “priming” them to be on guard for a second hit.

Morphine, which also stimulates that receptor, is the second hit.

“With that second hit, the primed glial cells respond faster, stronger and longer than before, creating a much more enduring state of inflammation and sometimes local tissue damage,” she said.

In a previous study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2016, the researchers showed that just a few days of treatment with opiates to treat peripheral nerve pain, such as sciatica, could exacerbate and prolong pain for months in animals, in part by increasing expression of inflammatory genes.

A few small studies in humans have associated postsurgical opioid administration with chronic pain as much as one year later.

“An unusually high number of people end up with postoperative chronic pain. This new study lends insight into one explanation for that,” Watkins said.

The researchers, acknowledging that animal studies cannot directly translate to humans, are now calling for more clinical studies on opioids and chronic pain.

More than 50 million U.S. adults experience chronic pain, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Watkins is also studying novel compounds that could be given with opioids to mute the exaggerated immune response they are believed to trigger, as well as alternative painkillers, including cannabinoids, for pain.

“There is surely a dark side in terms of addiction when it comes to opioids, but this is a very different idea — that we think we are treating the pain with these drugs and we may actually be prolonging it,” she said.

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Parents, Kids Spend More Time Discussing How To Use Mobile Technology Than Talking About Content

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ANN ARBOR—Most parents would agree that one of the of the biggest modern parenting challenges is monitoring a child’s online activity.

A new study appearing in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that parents spend more time talking with kids about the mechanics of using their mobile devices than they do about what their kids watch and download on those devices.

The findings came from a small, recent study of 75 children and their families, led by researcher Sarah Domoff, then a postdoctoral fellow at University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development. The children wore recording devices at home, which recorded talking, conversations or other sounds nearby, as well as audible screen media use.

Domoff, now an assistant professor at Central Michigan University, said the findings revealed some concerning trends in how families and children communicate about media today. Specifically, the researchers observed minimal conversation about the content of programming that children were watching.

Additionally, they learned that other family members appear to play an important role when content is discussed. Children––not parents––initiated most conversations about content, and older siblings played a much bigger role than parents in content mediation for younger siblings. Also, the study found that children as young as toddlers were exposed to multiple media sources at one time, or media multitasking.

Other findings include:

  • Negotiations and conflict are common among parents and children.
  • Parallel family media use is common, meaning different family members use their own devices at the same time.

“One of the most challenging aspects of parenting today is being aware of what children are exposed to online, particularly content delivered via mobile devices,” Domoff said.

“Thus, it is critical that parents utilize privacy settings and restrictions to protect children from certain content. Ideally, this would occur before the child received their own mobile device.”

Domoff recommends developing a family media plan. In 2016, The American Academy of Pediatrics released a tool that helps families set different goals and media use rules based on individual needs, she said.

It’s also troubling that some apps downloaded by children include advertising or request in-app purchases, she said. Parents can identify these apps by using Common Sense Media’s app review.

Parents can also recruit older children to help younger siblings make good content choices.

The study aimed to identify themes of parental mediation and family communication around mobile media devices. There’s a dearth of scientific data in this area compared to television and video games, but studies show that parental mediation leads to better outcomes for children.

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Internet Therapy Apps Reduce Depression Symptoms

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In a sweeping new study, Indiana University psychologists have found that a series of self-guided, internet-based therapy platforms effectively reduce depression.

The work, which reviewed 21 pre-existing studies with a total of 4,781 participants, was published in the November issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The study was led by Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, an assistant professor of clinical psychology in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

In the past several years, many internet-based apps and websites have made claims to treat depression. The subjects of the IU study were specifically those applications that provide treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing thought patterns and behavior to alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental disorders.

Previous studies had examined the effectiveness of individual internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps, or iCBT, using a range of methods. Until this study, however, no review had examined whether the effects of these treatments were inflated by excluding patients with more severe depression or additional conditions such as anxiety or alcohol abuse.

“Before this study, I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems, and were at low risk for suicide,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“To my surprise, that was not the case. The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people.”

For Lorenzo-Luaces, internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps are an important new tool for addressing a major public health issue: that individuals with mental health disorders like depression far outnumber the mental health providers available to treat them.

“Close to one in four people meet the criteria for major depressive disorder,” he said.

“If you include people with minor depression or who have been depressed for a week or a month with a few symptoms, the number grows, exceeding the number of psychologists who can serve them.”

People with depression are also expensive for the health care system, he added.

“They tend to visit primary-care physicians more often than others,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“They have more medical problems, and their depression sometimes gets in the way of their taking their medication for other medical problems.”

By conducting a “meta-regression analysis” of 21 studies, Lorenzo-Luaces and collaborators decisively determined that internet-based therapy platforms effectively alleviate depression. A central question was determining whether previous studies distorted the strength of these systems’ effects by excluding people with severe depression.

The conclusion was that the apps worked in cases of mild, moderate and severe depression.

Many of the studies in the analysis compared use of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps to placement on a wait list for therapy or the use of a “fake app” that made weak recommendations to the user. In these cases, the iCBT apps worked significantly better.

“This is not to say that you should stop taking your medication and go to the nearest app store,” added Lorenzo-Luaces, who said both face-to-face therapy and antidepressants may still prove to be more effective than the iCBT apps alone.

“People tend to do better when they have a little bit of guidance,” he said. But he added that a 10- to 15-minute check-in may be sufficient for many people, freeing health care providers to see more patients.

App-based therapy also has an advantage in situations where access to face-to-face therapy is limited due to logistical barriers, such as long distances in rural areas or inflexible work schedules.

“ICBT apps take the methods we have learned and make them available to the many people who could benefit from them,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“It’s an exciting development.”

 

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New Study Finds Employee Incentives Can Lead To Unethical Behavior In The Workplace

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Considering end-of-year bonuses for your employees? Supervisors be forewarned, a new study finds that while incentive rewards can help motivate and increase employee performance it can also lead to unethical behavior in the workplace.

“Goal fixation can have a profound impact on employee behavior, and the damaging effects appear to be growing stronger in today’s competitive business landscape,” says Bill Becker, co-author of the study and associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

The study, “The effects of goals and pay structure on managerial reporting dishonesty,” provides valuable insight into the relationship between pay structures and motivation.

Findings suggest that setting compensation goals can increase dishonesty when managers are also paid a bonus for hitting certain targets.

“These unintended negative consequences can lead to dishonesty, unethical behavior, increased risk-taking, escalation of commitment, and depletion of self-control,” says Becker.

The study points to observations of unethical behaviors in the workplace that include employees falsifying or manipulating financial reporting information as well as time and expense reports.

For example, service professionals such as auditors, contractors, lawyers, and consultants who report hours billed against a target budget is often based on a fixed contract price.

“This causes potential for both under-reporting and over-reporting costs, which can undermine organizational objectives and negatively impact the interest of the firm,” says Becker.

“Using purely monetary incentives is almost always a double edged sword.”

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