According to a new study published in the Neuropharmacology journal, researchers have developed a non-addictive painkiller that is as strong as morphine and has fewer side-effects.
The new study was conducted by researchers from Tulane University and Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. As detailed in a press release from Tulane University, the scientists used rats to engineer peptide-based drugs – which are variants of the natural body neurochemical endomorphin. The drugs were designed to target the same receptors targeted by opioid pain-relief drugs.
One of the dangers of opioid-based painkillers is that while they are effective in treating chronic pain, they are also very addictive. Most of the problems America is facing now with the opioid and heroin epidemic are due to the addictive nature of these prescription opioid drugs. There have been many calls by leaders and lawmakers for pharmaceutical companies to come up with drugs that are less addictive.
Some risks of taking prescription opiod painkillers include:
- Increased tolerance to the drugs hence the danger of drug abuse.
- Patients tend to increase their dosages once tolerance kicks in thereby running the risk of an overdose.
- Opioid drugs can cause fatal respiratory depression.
- Painkillers cause motor impairment.
- Overdosing can cause death.
Results of the Study
Researchers found that the new endomorphin drug had more positive effects on the rats than the morphine-based drugs. For example, the new drug did not create physical or psychological dependence; provided longer pain relief than opioid painkillers; did not hamper motor coordination; and did not produce any significant respiratory depression.
James Zadina, Lead Researcher and VA senior research career scientist and professor of medicine, pharmacology and neuroscience at Tulane University School of Medicine, was quoted in the press release saying, “These [negative] side effects were absent or reduced with the new drug. It’s unprecedented for a peptide to deliver such powerful pain relief with so few side effects.”
Scientists noted that the new drug produced less tolerance than the opioid drugs. Plus, the rats only focused on getting more morphine when presented with the option of either drug. This showed that the new pill was less addictive.
Solving the Substance Abuse Puzzle
The challenge posed by substance dependence is such that some chronic pain patients suffer a lot of agony because doctors are fearful of prescribing higher doses of the opioid painkillers. Zadina told New Orleans Advocate that “Many people still have their serious pain not addressed. We hope to get to the point where doctors and patients aren’t making the agonizing decision about risking side effects and addictions in order to meet patients’ needs of relief.”
Unfortunately, the problem still remains with new reports every day showing that opioid and heroin abuse is skyrocketing. Just last month, New Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse released a statement describing the epidemic as a “public health crisis”.
Even as several states are pushing through legislation to have the overdose reversal drug, Narcan, available to the public, the better solution right now is for the new endomorphin drug to make it to the market sooner. Otherwise, doctors will continue treating pain on one side and dealing with new addiction cases on the other.
For now, the public will have to wait a bit. Human clinical trials for the new peptide-based drug will commence in the next two years.