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Are Non-Addictive Opioid Painkillers Possible?

Are Non-Addictive Opioid Painkillers Possible?

For a very long time humans have been using plants and plant derived medicines to aid their chronic and acute pain. For these purposes, opiates are completely unmatched in terms of effectiveness. No other drugs come close to their level of universal pain relief, but of course opiates also have a dark side: they are able to produce massive addiction and dependence.

Opioid Addiction and Dependence

Until recently, scientists had assumed that due to their mechanisms of action it was not possible, or highly unlikely, that a therapeutic opioid could be discovered and used without these side effects. After all, the two effects are intrinsically linked. On one hand, the user’s pain is gone, but on the other hand they feel euphoric. The reason for this is because the drugs bind receptors in the body and the brain, some of which are responsible for transmitting nerve signals such as those associated with hunger, pain, thirst, social information, and subsequently, have a strong effect on motivation, behavior, and eventually lead to what we call addiction. The drugs cause neurons to become so-called hyperpolarized, meaning it is more difficult for them to fire, and thus to transmit information.

Eliminating Painkiller Side Effects

To address the problem of addiction, some companies tried to minimize the effects by creating slow release versions of previously known opioids, such as OxyContin, which is a slow release version of oxycodone. This was ineffective however, because it soon became clear that crushing and snorting or injecting the pills produced a powerful high. This meant that OxyContin was also abused. More recently however, pharmaceutical companies are trying to use more direct methods to fight this effect.

Due to the resurgence of opioid addiction in the United States, and due to the fact that many pharmaceutical companies have faced the wrath of both public opinion and the law in regards to these drugs, large efforts are being made to circumvent this effect of the medications. Interestingly, many of them are claiming to have made progress. One example is the compound CR845, a synthetic opioid developed by Cara Therapeutics. This drug does something that other opioids do not. Rather than entering the brain to do its work, it works in the periphery. This is because the drug is not able to enter the brain, due to the fact that it cannot pass the blood brain barrier.

CR845 is not the only attempt at creating opiate drugs that is currently being tried. Other companies are hard at work on their own versions, and many believe that it will only be a matter of time before somebody manages to create one that can be submitted for approval. Despite the promise and potential these drugs provide for the future, it is still important to realize that this is merely a concept at the moment. Until such drugs are available on the market, we will have to fight opioid addiction the good old-fashioned way.

Are You Addicted to Opioids?

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