Harvard Mental Health Letter

Morphine and traumatic memory

Easing pain early on reduces risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

People who sustain serious and painful physical injuries are at increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study of U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq — confirming the findings of two earlier studies — suggests that those who receive morphine for pain relief have a lower risk of developing PTSD later on.

All of these studies were observational and cannot prove cause and effect. They also cannot answer crucial questions about the drug's mechanism of action or whether the results are applicable to other types of people at risk for PTSD (such as those who suffer an emotional rather than physical trauma). An editorial accompanying the most recent study noted, however, that together these studies suggest that alleviating pain with morphine might help lower risk of PTSD.

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