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Could opioid addiction be genetic?

Posted at 10:42 AM, Dec 20, 2018

BALTIMORE — Can addiction be prevented before a patient takes a single dose of painkillers?

One day doctors may be able to predict your chances for developing addiction, just as they currently do for high blood pressure, diabetes or other genetic traits.

“We think there may be a genetic link to that different response, and if we can identify, if we could trace it back to a specific gene, then we could maybe predict that better in the future,” said Dr. Kelly Dunn, Associate Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

RELATED: Advocacy groups call for FDA to take action on opioid crisis

Dr. Dunn is leading a team that’s researching who’s predisposed to have positive or negative reactions to taking opioids.

“If we know that we have to prescribe opiates for pain management, we want to be able to do that while still reducing the likelihood that they develop addiction so personalized medicine, or understanding the risk factors is a new method we’re starting to use that can help us do that,” said Dr. Dunn.

Doctors have known for years some patients develop a dependence on opioids, so why hasn’t the medical community done more studies like this?

READ MORE: UMB professor working on non-addictive pain killer

Dr, Dunn said, “There are very few places that have the opportunity to do these types of studies, so we have the resources to do laboratory studies where we can actually model situations related to drug use disorder and use that to predict whether or not somebody might find them addictive.”

Before doctors write any prescription, they usually ask their patients if they might have an allergic reaction to certain drugs.

The goal at Johns Hopkins Medicine is one day patients may be able to answer regarding addiction.

“What we’re hoping is that we can inform the field and inform providers and individuals who are taking pain medication of the risk factors or the risk profiles that exist and how to better target them so that people can minimize the likelihood that they would become addicted,” said Dr. Dunn.

SEE ALSO: Using drugs to help prevent opioid deaths

In the future, powerful pain killers may not be off limits for those patients predisposed for addiction.