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Ethnic Differences in the Effects of Naloxone on Sustained Evoked Pain: A Preliminary Study

Ethnic differences in pain response have been well documented, with non-Hispanic Black (NHB) participants reporting enhanced clinical pain and greater laboratory-evoked pain sensitivity to a variety of quantitative sensory testing (QST) methods compared to non-Hispanic Whites (NHW). One potential mechanism that may contribute to these disparities is differential functioning of endogenous pain-regulatory systems. To evaluate endogenous opioid (EO) mechanisms in pain responses, we examined group differences in response to tonic capsaicin pain following double-blinded crossover administration of saline and the opioid antagonist, naloxone. Ten percent topical capsaicin cream and a thermode were applied to the dorsum of the non-dominant hand, maintaining a constant temperature of 40°C for 90 min. Naloxone (0.1 mg/ kg) or saline placebo was administered at the 25 min mark and post-drug pain intensity ratings were obtained every 5 min thereafter. As an index of EO function, blockade effects were derived for each participant, reflecting the difference between mean post-drug pain intensity ratings under the saline versus naloxone conditions, with higher positive scores reflecting greater EO inhibition of pain. Thirty-nine healthy, young individuals (19 non-Hispanic Black [NHB], 20 non-Hispanic White [NHW]) participated. Group difference in EO function were identified, with NHB participants displaying lower EO function scores (mean=-10.8, SD=10.1) as compared to NHW participants (mean=-0.89, SD=11.5; p=0.038). NHB participants experienced significant paradoxical analgesia with naloxone. Thirty five percent of the NHW participants showed a positive blockade effect indicating EO analgesia (i.e., an increase in pain with naloxone), while only 10% of the NHB participants exhibited evidence of EO analgesia. These findings suggest differential functioning of the endogenous opioid pain regulatory system between NHB and NHW participants. Future research is warranted to examine whether these differences contribute to the disparities observed in clinical pain between groups.


Emily F Burton, Samuel Y Suen, Janiece L Walker, Stephen Bruehl, B Lee Peterlin, D Andy Tompkins,Luis F Buenaver, Robert R Edwards, Claudia M Campbell

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