The new painkiller has the potency of morphine without any of its addictive qualities. The scientists who have been working on developing the new drug at Tulane University in New Orleans are continuing to conduct tests to determine whether the drug can truly treat pain without the dangerous addictive side effects associated with opioids.
Their tests are focused on comparing endomorphins, or the chemicals in the human body that produce physical and mental functions related to stress, pain, and other physiological reactions. These endomorphins play a key role when it comes to producing drugs that are designed to treat pain and several other diseases.
The tests being conducted at Tulane involve rat subjects and the brain receptors that are affected by drugs like morphine. Researchers administered their new drug to the rats and observed that it effectively relieved pain without producing any dangerous side effects like slowed breathing or impaired motor skills that are normally produced by opioids.
The endomorphins produced by the drugs also failed to produce the same cravings in the rats that would normally be produced by taking a drug like morphine. Additional tests done with the rats gave them the opportunity to take more doses of the drug by triggering a bar.
Surprisingly, the rats did not seek more of the drug. When the test was repeated with morphine however, the rats triggered the bar for additional dosages of the drug that were higher in potency.
The researchers at Tulane are very pleased with the outcome of their tests so far, saying that the ability of the new drug to deliver such powerful pain relieving effects with little to no side effects is unprecedented.
This could be a significant finding for the medical community but more tests will need to be conducted before moving forward. The next round of tests will be done with human trials and should take place within the next two years.
Right now it is estimated that almost 2 and a half million Americans take prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes. Last year, almost 50,000 people died from drug overdoses, with half of the cases due to opioid use.
If researchers can successfully produce a painkiller that has none of the addictive qualities or negative side effects of an opioid, it could prove to be a powerful tool in reducing the rate of opioid and prescription drug abuse in the U.S. The drug could also be prescribed to recovering alcoholics and addicts without posing a danger to their recovery.
Other efforts by pharmaceutical companies to curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic include production of "abuse resistant" drugs that cannot be crushed by users or injected. The company that produces OxyContin created a version of the drug with these abuse resistant properties that drew criticism from the recovery community among others.
Even though the pills cannot be crushed or dissolved, they can still be swallowed which still makes it possible for abuse to take place (the majority of prescription drug abusers take pills orally). The producers of the pills countered by bringing up the fact that the majority of overdoses occur as the result of a combination of drug and alcohol consumption.
If the pills can't dissolve in liquid, then they can't have any effect when taken with alcohol. Still many argue that the new pills aren't the solution to a growing epidemic in our country. The overprescribing of painkillers has played a major role in the rising rates of abuse.