Pharmacogenetics of Opioids as a Potential Alternative in Pediatric Pain Management
Opioid and codeine treatment in pain management for children has been a primary concern in clinical settings, specifically for surgical pain management. The concerns are the adverse reactions caused by the opioids, such as respiratory depression. Current Opinion in Anesthesiology, “Codeine and Opioid Metabolism: Implications and Alternatives for Pediatric Pain Management” (2017), reviews how important clinical factors and genetic polymorphisms affect the metabolism of opioids after surgical operations.
Adverse Side Effects of Codeine
Codeine’s efficacy has been questioned in the pain management of children. Current Opinion in Anesthesiology identifies the adverse reactions of it. The prominent ones are respiratory depression, anoxic brain injuries, and even death occurring in children. With reported doses of codeine, significant respiratory depression was found in newborns in a report by Canadian Pharmacists Journal “Pain Management in Children: A Transition from Codeine to Morphine for Moderate to Severe Pain in Children” (2012).
Opioids in Pain Management
Opioids are the cornerstone of pain and chronic pain management. “Successful pain management provides adequate analgesia without excessive adverse reactions affirms Clinical Biochemistry “Pharmacogenetics of Chronic Pain Management” (2014). Drug metabolism and responses are influenced by numerous factors, including pharmacogenetics. Genetic variations contribute to the distinct inter individual responses to pain medications.
Involvement of CYP2D6 in Codeine
Those with two nonfunctional alleles of CYP2D6 are considered poor metabolizers. Extensive metabolizers have one or two effective CYP2D6 alleles and those with duplicated CYP2D6 alleles are ultra rapid metabolizers. Canadian Pharmacists Journal indicates the functions of CYP2D6 are similar in both children and adults.
The review also acknowledges the safety concerns of CYP2D6 ultra rapid metabolizers from several studies. One study demonstrated how a breastfed newborn infant died after his mother consumed Tylenol #3 for postpartum pain. Toxicology testing found the mother had abnormally high concentration levels of morphine in her breast milk. Genotype testing found the mother was an ultra rapid metabolizer of codeine. The study concluded since the mother was an ultra rapid metabolizer, higher than normal morphine levels crossed into the breast milk and resulted in the infant dying from morphine intoxication.
Another study found a two-year-old child who also died of morphine intoxication. The child was prescribed codeine in recommended dosages after having his tonsils removed. Genotype testing revealed the child was an ultra rapid metabolizer of codeine. However, there were also other contributing factors; the child had bronchopneumonia and sleep apnea. The study concluded these factors “may have increased his risk of hypoxemia, leading to alterations in opioid receptors and increased sensitivity to morphine.”
Canadian Pharmacists Journal concludes these studies show ultra rapid metabolizers of codeine are correlated with a higher risk of morphine intoxication among children.
Alternatives to Prevent Adverse Drug Reactions
Canadian Pharmacists Journal argues morphine as a safer alternative compared to codeine. They argue morphine has “demonstrated efficacy and relative safety when used appropriately in pain management in both adults and children.” A study they analyzed found morphine treatment more effective than a placebo for children in postoperative pain.
Current Opinion in Anesthesiology also outlines the possible alternatives to prevent the risks of opioids, such as pharmacogenetics. They indicate personalized opioid therapy for pain management is “distant from reality”, but current CYP2D6 pharmacogenetic research on codeine is hopeful. The review summarizes, “pharmacogenetics has the potential to guide anesthesia providers on perioperative opioid selection and dosing to maximize efficacy and safety.”