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Ed Yeates Reporting A study by a Utah clinical research lab shows an unexpected life-threatening side effect from pain medications. It may indicate why some patients suffering from chronic pain do well during the day, but run into serious problems when they go to sleep.
Salt Lake-based Lifetree Clinical Research has found that opioid-based pain medications may cause sleep apnea. And it may take only prescribed moderate to high doses to bring it on. "Clearly, people who are taking their medications as directed may still be at considerable risk," Dr. Lynn Webster of Lifetree Clinical Research warns.
Webster published the findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. The sleep apnea he's talking about is not the usual kind we see patients tested for in sleep centers. It's what is called "Central Sleep Apnea" in which, while sleeping, there is no effort to breathe. "This information may help us try to understand why we've seen such a large increase in the unintentional overdose deaths across the country," Webster said.
This serious form of respiratory depression doesn't appear to affect all people, and Webster says since the pain medications are often used on cancer patients, in which pain control is essential, those patients can easily be treated for the apnea. In fact, he says that apnea treatment may actually lower the dose of medication needed to treat the pain.