New Non-Addictive Painkillers May Soon Be Available

By Victoria Kim 11/13/14

Connecticut-based Cara Therapeutics is developing an opioid painkiller that allegedly won't make users feel high.

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With painkiller abuse skyrocketing in recent years, there's good news in the form of a new non-addictive opioid medication looming on the horizon. Currently, there are about a dozen drugs being developed to replace addictive, commonly abused painkillers such as oxycodone, but one particular drug promises to provide pain relief without the high or unpleasant side effects.

Cara Therapeutics, a company based in Connecticut, recently unveiled an opioid drug that is allegedly far less likely to cause patients to feel high. The compound is called CR845 and works on different nerve-ending receptors than traditional treatments without entering a patient’s brain.

Cara claims that CR845 does not cause nausea, respiratory depression, or other bad side effects, unlike other non-addictive opioid drugs that come with side effects like seizures or hallucinations.

“We need safer medications,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, lead investigator on the trials for the Cara compound and past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “They will not solve the problem of prescription drug abuse, but they will reduce overdose deaths.”

The UN World Health Organization reported last week that nearly 70,000 lives are claimed by opioid overdose each year. Although the majority of people dependent on opioids use heroin, a fast rising proportion are dependent on prescription opioids.

In September, the American Academy of Neurology said that the risk of taking strong painkillers, which includes death, overdose, and addiction, far outweigh the benefits of treating chronic pain and other non-cancer conditions. “If we can effectively replace these drugs, that would be a game changer,” said Bob Twillman, Deputy Executive Director of Policy and Advocacy for the American Academy of Pain Management.

The idea of a non-addictive painkiller is drawing its share of skeptics, like Van Ingram, Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “It wasn’t that long ago we were told (OxyContin) wasn’t that addictive,” Ingram said.

But people like Dr. Gavril Pasternak, an opioid researcher and expert at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, are hopeful. Pasternak said non-addictive painkillers are getting closer than ever to market. “Is (a non-addictive opioid) a possibility? Absolutely. And there are a lot of people devoting a lot of time and effort to it,” Pasternak said. “It could be ready relatively soon.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr