Timely Use of Morphine May Help Prevent PTSD, Study Shows

The effects of combat on the psychological health of soldiers deployed in wars have been shown to cause serious detriment to well-being and mental health, with a number of veterans developing symptoms of posttraumatic stress, or PTSD, after their return home. The U.S. military, swarmed with recent stories about rising rates of suicide among its servicemen and women along with high numbers of cases of an array of mental health concerns, has been looking for ways to respond to veterans’ needs. While their results have been criticized as disappointing by some, a recent study performed at the Naval Research Center in San Diego has found that, in particular, quick-response administration of morphine after wounding may play a major role in preventing future onset of PTSD.

The study analyzed information on wounded soldiers treated for wounds sustained in the war in Iraq between 2004 and 2006. A significantly higher number of veterans who did not eventually develop PTSD had received a morphine shot within an hour of being injured than did those veterans who exhibited symptoms of the mental health concern at a later date. Describing the shot as a potential “morning-after pill,” observers have noted that while promising, the treatment also requires further investigation to understand which element or elements have the most meaningful impact on hurt soldiers.

The treatment’s strength may at least in part reside in its speed; though morphine may have an important impact on memory and cognitive processes, the researchers found that the severity of the wounds had no apparent relation to the success of the treatment. Serving soldiers with psychotherapy or other types of noninvasive care on the spot may also become an important part of first-aid response for soldiers.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • runninfast


    January 16th, 2010 at 6:14 AM

    Are there any fears that this may increase any drug dependency in the soldiers afterwards? It’s great that it could help to offset PTSD, but then it may bring on another host of problems. Is the military prepared to deal with that too?

  • gerrard


    January 16th, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    It is welcoming to know that soldiers who recieved immediate attention are somewhat immune to stress and mental disorders. This goes on to prove the eefectiveness of an on-time cure to any problem, and the practice should be followed to make sure as many soldiers as possible benefit from this.

  • Rachel


    January 16th, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    How about just the fact that they are immediately receiving treatment- that may actually be the cause for holding off the severity of post traumatic stress instead of the morphine. This seems so far fetched to me, like I can’t wrap my mind around how morphine could in any way keep them from having symptoms other than just numbing the pain a bit for a while.

  • Paula James

    Paula James

    January 17th, 2010 at 3:53 AM

    It is a well know fact that any injury that recieves late attention or worse no attention at all stays for longer. Now what I want to say is if an injury is not attended to immediately, it develops more than it would and also the longer healing time and other things make the patient go through a lot of grief and trauma…this may be why it is observed that quick attention prevents PTSD.

  • Bonnie S

    Bonnie S

    January 17th, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    Anytime there is a new treatment to fight these things I say go for it- hopefuly only good things will come ofthe research.

  • Kayla


    January 17th, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    Honestly I have read this article a few times and I still can’t get past the opinion that this is reaching for a solution that is not there, or that’s what it seems like to me anyway. How are you ever going to prove that these soldiers were going to develop PTSD in the first place? I mean there are some who never do, so who’s to say it is the morphine shot that is warding this off? Maybe they were not predisposed to be affected by it in the first place.

  • Teach


    January 17th, 2010 at 8:54 PM

    What strikes me is the question, how many soldiers have to wait beyond that hour to get the morphine? That’s ridiculous. Administration of painkillers should be as immediate as possible, especially in cases where the severity demands morphine.

  • Dionne S.

    Dionne S.

    January 17th, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    “We are not sure if the effect is from pain reduction or from an effect morphine has on memory consolidation in the brain immediately after a traumatic event. Or it may be both working together,” Troy Lisa Holbrook of the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego said in a telephone interview.

    “We need more research to tease those out and find out which one it is,” she said.

    Who cares? It works! Give them all it instead of using them as guinea pigs.

  • Pearl


    January 17th, 2010 at 10:30 PM

    I don’t see a reason to fuss over military wives. They know what they signed up for when they married into the military and get plenty of perks because of their family’s status that average families don’t. You can get an idea of what those perks are here if you don’t believe me.


    Wives have waved husbands off to war for centuries. Naturally they get depressed, can’t sleep and show anxiety. They wouldn’t be much of a wife if they didn’t.

  • Jim


    January 17th, 2010 at 11:09 PM

    Modern day military wives are well compensated for their tears. If they didn’t want that stress, they could have married a civilian. You didn’t hear wives complaining during WWII. They just got on with raising the kids and keeping a nice home for the soldiers to return to.

  • Victoria L.

    Victoria L.

    January 17th, 2010 at 11:18 PM

    I disagree. They deserve every perk they get. The most I have to worry about is if my husband will remember to pick up milk on the way home. I can’t imagine how military spouses feel, always wondering if your husband or wife will be the next to come home in a coffin.

  • mellisa T.

    mellisa T.

    January 18th, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    I would be very wrong to say they should just get on with their lives…it is hard enough to stay away from one’s partner.And to know that he is in a battlefield is going to be very very difficult… You don’t see whether the person you like and want to get married is a civialian or is in the armed forces, do you…?

  • paige


    January 18th, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Although war is not good, having no war is ideal and not really possible in the world we are in now.The least we can do is to look after the individuals who are prepared to lay down their lives for the nation… give them all that we can so that they suffer the least possible…

  • Shannon


    January 18th, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    Sorry but I am a nurse and don’t see that anything good can come from this type of treatment over time

  • Spritle


    September 14th, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    I have a great respect for nurses, Shannon. But your experience is not that of the actual patient. I am living proof this helped me as a patient.

  • Fletcher


    January 18th, 2010 at 9:51 PM

    Care to elaborate on why, Shannon? I’m curious as to what your opinion is based upon.

  • Sugarlove


    January 18th, 2010 at 9:58 PM

    I wonder how long the soldiers were studied, post-injury, for this research? A year, maybe two? Just because they don’t have PTSD now isn’t a guarantee they won’t be suffering it in ten years time. I’d like to see a follow-up on this further down the line.

  • Teach


    January 18th, 2010 at 10:28 PM

    Good point Sugarlove. I’d also be interested in knowing if the morphine dosage was a single one or if the soldiers that didn’t develop PTSD had continued to be on morphine for an extended period. Perhaps that differentiation could be important.

  • Philip


    January 18th, 2010 at 11:04 PM

    If there is the remotest chance that a dose of morphine will prevent PTSD, it should be standard practice to administer that. One shot or pill that could prevent a lifetime of suffering from PTSD? I’d take it.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    January 18th, 2010 at 11:10 PM

    I hate to see anybody fighting, girls especially.I realized after I saw two girls squaring up to each other why they call it a cat fight. They are vicious — scratching, biting, ripping hair. It’s a horrible thing to see.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    January 18th, 2010 at 11:12 PM

    Sorry, wrong thread. Please disregard that comment above and I’ll post it in the right one.

  • Joan


    January 18th, 2010 at 11:47 PM

    It’s okay to say there’s no conclusive proof that the soldier would have developed PTSD anyway. Imagine if it were your child or partner injured on that battlefield. Would you want to wait until the military were 100% sure about why it worked and figured out who was/wasn’t susceptible to developing PTSD then developed a sliding scale on who gets it?

    Or would you want them, as I would, to give your loved morphine not just for the pain but because it might prevent PTSD?

    PTSD doesn’t affect only the sufferer. They have families too that have to live with the consequences of that affliction as well.

  • Lorraine


    January 19th, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    How would you feel if your spouse didn’t get the morphine and you discovered later that if they had, it could have stopped them from going through PTSD? I would be furious. Give them all morphine. Do the additional research, fine! However, don’t delay handing out the morphine while you’re carrying that out.

  • Sam


    January 19th, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    Don’t think that anything or any type of help can be discounted if it looks like it might help with prevention

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