Taking antibiotics alongside opioids may increase the risk of opioid abuse, according to research in rats recently published in eNeuro.
Opioid abuse and addiction plague over 2 million Americans. Many factors play a role in the opioid crisis, but one may have a larger role than previously thought: the gut microbiome. The world of bacteria in the gut influences brain health and plays a role in a slew of brain disorders, including addiction.
After surgery, doctors typically prescribe both opioids and antibiotics to treat pain while fighting off infection. This strategy also kills bacteria in the microbiome. Simpson et al. decided to explore the relationship of the two drugs given the prevalence of the combination.
The team administered antibiotics to rats for two weeks, depleting their gut microbiome, and then gave them the opioid oxycodone. Compared to rats that only received oxycodone, the microbiome-depleted rats displayed profound changes in how their brains responded to opioids. The rats showed altered opioid sensitivity in brain areas implicated in addiction: the depleted microbiome exacerbated the effects of intoxication and weakened the effects of withdrawal.