Non-addictive opioids: A game-changer in time of crisis?

Since the patent of the highly addictive narcotic Oxycontin in 1996, rates of opioid addiction, overdose, and death have been skyrocketing in Canada. In British Columbia, over 900 deaths have been recorded due to overdose from fentanyl, a synthetic opiate. In 2016, the opiate epidemic in British Columbia led the province to declare a state of emergency. The root of the epidemic has been attributed to careless prescribing by physicians. Will the emergence of a potentially non-addictive opioid change the landscape of pain treatment?

Scientists at Tulane University and Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System have developed and tested a pain reliever in rats that is as potent as morphine, but has fewer side effects, including a minimal risk of addiction. They engineered four novel analogs of endomorphin, an endogenous peptide that acts as the same mu opioid receptor as other narcotics. At equianalgesic or higher doses, all of the analogs demonstrated a lower incidence of respiratory depression, motor impairment, tolerance, and addictive potential relative to morphine. The analogs also reduce glial activation, which has been implicated in causing side effects, such as opioid hyperalgesia and dependence, suggesting a differential mechanism of action compared to traditional opioids.

Within the next two years, the research team hopes to trial endomorphin analogs in humans, which will be necessary to ascertain if these analgesics will truly enable clinicians to offer patients impressive pain relief with minimal side effects.

Written by Anna Goshua

References may be found in the journal. 

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