Can Osteoarthritis Pain Medication Help Prevent Opioid Dependence?

By Beth Leipholtz 03/01/18

In a new study, researchers examined the potential of an experimental combination of opioid-based medication and osteoarthritis pain medication.

Female hands hold one pill and glass of water close-up

A drug initially intended for treating osteoarthritis pain could actually assist in preventing opioid tolerance and physical dependence, according to a new Indiana University study. 

The study, published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology, was conducted by researchers from the Linda and Jack Gill Center for Biomolecular Science at IU Bloomington. Researchers found that when used in combination with opioid-based pain medications, the medication previously intended for osteoarthritis pain appeared to “block neuropathic pain and decrease signs of opioid dependence.”

Though initially intended for osteoarthritis pain, the medication was not found to be effective during human trials. Researchers decided to explore more with the drug because they found it acted upon a target in the body “known to play a role in pain relief.”

"The potential to quickly begin using this compound in combination with opioid-based medication to treat pain and reduce addiction makes this discovery very significant," lead investigator Andrea G. Hohmann, professor in the IU Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, said in a media release. "We already know this drug is safe for use in people, so moving into human trials will not require as many regulatory hurdles."

In order to test the experimental drug’s potential, researchers administered the drug and the opioid morphine to male mice with neuropathic pain. Similar to humans, morphine initially reduced the pain, but as time passed the mice built up a tolerance to it, requiring more morphine for the same effect.

However, when researchers combined a low dose of the experimental drug with morphine, the mice did not become tolerant to morphine, which remained the case even after the experimental drug was taken away. Additionally, researchers found that the experimental drug could provide pain relief on its own when given in higher doses. 

In a second experiment, researchers gave mice solely morphine, or morphine combined with the experimental drug. They were then treated with naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids and induces withdrawal symptoms. According to Hohmann, the drug also reduced these symptoms. 

According to researchers, the results of these experiments imply that the experimental drug could potentially be used to “prevent tolerance, allowing satisfactory pain treatment with fewer side effects, or as a means to wean opioid-tolerant individuals off these drugs.”

This study was supported in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Cancer Institute.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.