Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help people being treated for opioid addiction lower their methadone dose and better manage pain and withdrawal symptoms, according to two studies by scientists at Washington State University.
The research team recruited participants enrolled in a local opioid treatment program to test the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment.
Published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing, the first article describes a pilot study of 31 participants which showed that those who received hyperbaric oxygen therapy as part of a planned methadone taper were able to sustain a significantly longer dose reduction. 4.3 mg three months after the study, compared to 0.25 mg in participants who did not receive the treatment. They also reported half the level of withdrawal symptoms experienced by control participants after just one day of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“While methadone helps people with opioid addiction stabilize and get back to normal life, it’s still an opioid they take every day,” said study co-author Matthew Layton. , professor at WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and a former medical director of the Opioid Treatment Program. “About half of people in treatment want to stop methadone for various reasons, but many of those who have tried have failed and relapsed. Our results suggest that hyperbaric oxygen therapy could potentially be used as a non-pharmacological tool to help people to stop their methadone treatment.
The second study, which was published in Pain Management Nursing, was a small randomized controlled trial of eight participants that looked more closely at relief from withdrawal symptoms. It found that participants in the hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment group reported lower pain intensity and drug cravings than control participants who received a mixture of oxygen equivalent to room air delivered at normal atmospheric pressure. . Researchers also found improvements in other outcomes, such as sleep quality and mood.
“While for some the challenge is getting off methadone, others struggle to stay in treatment early on because it can be difficult to find the right dose to stabilize symptoms,” said first author Marian Wilson. , associate professor at the WSU College of Nursing. and an expert in pain management, an opioid use disorder. “As a result, many people experience withdrawal symptoms during this adjustment period that may be severe enough to cause them to return to illegal drug use or drop out of treatment.”
Based on the collective results of the two studies, the researchers are seeking funding for a clinical trial to confirm their findings on a larger sample of participants, who would be followed for several years.
The idea for both studies came from previous research by one of the WSU researchers that showed hyperbaric oxygen therapy relieved pain and reduced physical signs of opioid withdrawal in mice.
“We were excited to see if it would work in people,” said study co-author Raymond Quock, a professor at the WSU College of Arts and Sciences who led the work.
If their findings hold up in a larger clinical trial, hyperbaric oxygen therapy could become a non-pharmacological tool that providers can use to help people manage pain and potentially reduce their opioid use.
“Last year, more than 100,000 people died from the opioid epidemic as part of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Layton said. “It shows us that opioid addiction is still a really big problem, and we need to have better ways to approach it.”
In addition to Layton, Wilson, Quock and others at WSU, collaborators on these studies included Karen Stanek, medical director of the Spokane Hyperbaric Center and Alvina Jesse, program manager at the Spokane Regional Health District.
Funding for this work came from Washington State’s Initiative Measure No. 171, which was administered by the university’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program.