Scientists working on the opioid crisis have found a solution by developing a non-addictive painkiller as an alternative to the prescribed ones.
A recently developed non-addictive painkiller known as AT-121 reportedly delivers more effective pain relief than morphine. But unlike morphine and other painkillers, AT-121 doesn’t produce the euphoric feeling that causes addiction.
Morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and meperidine are some of the most addictive prescribed painkillers today. They are called opiates or opioid painkillers because they work by stimulating the opioid receptors in the brain and nervous system. Lengthy treatments which involve the usage of the said opiate drugs cause patients to develop addictions.
In the United States, opioid addiction has led to the massive rise in the use of street drugs like heroin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 115 people in the U.S. die from opioid overdose every day. In fact, the misuse of opioids has been considered by the government as a serious national crisis that affects not only the public health but the social and economic welfare as well.
With the discovery of AT-121, researchers are now hoping to cure the crisis that’s currently consuming not just the United States but other nations as well. AT-121 reportedly has dual therapeutic effects. It suppresses the opioid addiction while producing morphine-like analgesic effects.
“In our study, we found AT-121 to be safe and non-addictive, as well as an effective pain medication,” Mei-Chuan Ko, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at the School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said.
“We developed AT-121 that combines both activities in an appropriate balance in one single molecule, which we think is a better pharmaceutical strategy than to have two drugs to be used in combination.”
The researchers observed that even if given at low dosage, the new compound could still provide the same pain relief as other painkillers. At a 100-times lower dose than morphine, AT-121 could also soften the addictive effects of oxycodone. AT-121 also doesn’t exhibit the side effects common with opioid painkillers like the itch, respiratory depression, dependence, and tolerance.
At the moment, the new drug has only been tested on mice and monkeys. Ko and his team are now working on the final safety tests before proceeding with human trials.