New research may yield an addiction free painkiller.Prescription painkillers have always posed a problem for doctors. They are great at alleviating pain but they are also highly addictive. Now, new research shows there may be an addiction free painkiller on the horizon.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of Colorado have begun work a drug called +naloxone that could change the entire field of pain relief. This new drug is identical to a current drug used to treat opiate addiction. The researchers found that when this drug is paired with traditional opiates, it has very effective pain relief properties, while blocking many factors that lead to addiction.
While +Naloxone is still in its early stages, drugs of this type could help curb the growing number of prescription medication addicts. According to the CDC, there were 14,800 deaths related to painkiller overdoses in the U.S. That is higher than both cocaine and heroin combined. Furthermore, in 2010 12 million people admitted to using painkillers for non-medical reasons.
This makes finding a non-addictive replacement for the current crop of painkillers a major priority. Linda Watkins, the lead author of the study said that if +naloxone is proven effective, it could be game changer for pain relief. This is because +naloxone uses a new approach to fighting addiction. Traditionally, scientists looking at addiction focused on neurons and how a drug influenced them to trigger a reward. With +naloxone, Watkins and her team are examining glia. These are immune-like cells that may be a key player in the addiction process.
"You can think of them as volume controls," Watkins said. "They can turn up pain and they can turn up drug reward, because when they become activated by things like pain, by things like opiates, they start releasing substances that are excitatory, that drive neurons wild."
By paring morphine and +naloxone, Watkins and her team were able to block receptors in the glial cells. This increased the drugs ability to fight pain while removing many of its addictive aspects.
In an early study, rats were given the choice between a room where they could get saline or a room where they could get morphine. The rats treated with +naloxone did not develop a preference for the morphine room and so did not become addicted to the painkiller.
“Now you have separation of effects," Watkins said. "You can enhance the ability of opiates to be good in the clinical control of pain while at the same time decreasing the abuse potential."
While there is still much work to be done, Watkins believes that +naloxone could one day lead to an addiction proof painkiller. She said it may even have the potential to be used as a treatment for people with an existing drug abuse problem.