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WSU researcher finds a potential new benefit for hyperbaric chambers

Courtesy of Food and Drug Administration

The medical treatment could help people battling opioid addictions.

A new study by Washington State University researchers shows promise for people addicted to opioids, using hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

The treatment increases the oxygen level in humans by putting them in a pressurized chamber with higher oxygen levels. It has many applications, to reduce carbon monoxide poisoning and for other conditions in which tissues are starved for oxygen.

Researcher Marian Wilson from the WSU College of Nursing says she was interested in how the hyperbaric treatment would affect those who take methadone to treat opioid addiction and who suffer pain symptoms.

"We gave them five days of hyperbaric oxygen therapy during the week that they were reducing their dose," Wilson said. "We wanted to see if they would be able to maintain that desired reduction, and we did find that those in the treatment were able to reduce their dose at a greater rate than those who did not receive the treatment, so we saw that benefit.”

A second study also used a control group that was put into the chamber but not given increased oxygen levels. Data from the group that received the boosted oxygen showed those patients had fewer withdrawal symptoms and less pain.

Wilson says she isn’t planning another follow-up study, but she says those who suffer from addiction and can afford hyperbaric therapy may want to try it. 

“They could do it right now. People do go to the hyperbaric chamber and receive treatments, and pay for out of pocket, so it is something people could try if they're able to afford that," she said.

Wilson says more research will have to be done to determine specifics of how long such treatment will be needed and the continued effectiveness of the initial sessions.