Addicts Will Soon Be Able to Ditch the Itch

By Jeff Deeney 10/24/11

The maddening scratching that opiate highs bring for many addicts could be over, thanks to a scientific breakthrough.

Itchy and scratchy Photo via

Researchers at Washington University have made a scientific discovery that should have dope addicts in major cities around the world rejoicing: they've figured out how to stop you from itching when you're high on dope. That often maddening sub-dermal itch that doesn't seem to go away no matter how hard you scratch is a familiar sensation to many of us. And in fact, many addicts "enjoy" the itching as an indication of having scored good drugs, considering it a feature rather than a bug in the heroin experience. But others will be glad to learn that a particular variant of the opiate receptor in your brain that the drug attaches to in order to get you high seems to mediate the itch factor, which scientists say they can now eliminate without lessening the potency of the drug's effect. The door's now open for treatments to control itching in cancer and surgery patients, as well as addicts. The dope itch has been much-debated by drug users ever since the first fiends loaded morphine shots into old-style eyedropper syringes. Some addicts are furious face-scratchers, while others go for the extremities. Compulsive itching is a dead giveaway that an addict is high on opiates. Many abusers have struggled over the years to control the urge in order to evade detection by watchful parents, suspicious employers and prying probation officers.

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Jeff Deeney is a social worker, freelance writer and recovering addict in Philadelphia. He is a contributor to the Atlantic and has written for the Daily Beast, The Nation, and The Marshall Project. Follow Jeff on Twitter.