Naloxone-Based Antidote For Fentanyl, Synthetic Opioids Is In Development

By Paul Gaita 04/02/19

The naloxone-based antidote has already shown promise in tests involving animal subjects.

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scientists working on naloxone for fentanyl, synthetic opioids

The opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone, has proven useful in preventing fatalities from the use of heroin or prescription opioids.

But its duration in the human body—about 30 to 90 minutes—is less effective in countering the effects of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which can remain in an individual's system for hours and may require multiple doses of naloxone.

But researchers have begun work on a naloxone-based antidote that may outlast synthetic opioids, and which has already shown promise in tests involving animal subjects.

The results of the study were presented in Orlando, Florida at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on Sunday (March 31).

There, researchers from Duquesne University, the Allegheny Health Network Research Institute and the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center showcased their development of a naloxone-based antidote that uses nanoparticles (microscopic particles) to deliver a combination of naloxone molecules and a biodegradable polymer, or plastic, called polyactic acid.

As Science News noted, once introduced to an individual's system, water and enzymes in the body dissolve the nanoparticles and slowly release the naloxone.

According to the researchers, a single dose using this delivery system proved effective in countering the effects of morphine in tests involving mice for up to 96 hours. 

Reseacher Saadyah Averick of the Allegheny Health Network Research Institute was quoted as saying that the next phase of testing will involve the synthetic opioids, fentanyl and carfentanil, as well as increased testing to determine if the antidote can prevent a test animal from undergoing overdose. 

Data from the National Vital Statistics System's record of all U.S.-based deaths found that overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids had surpassed overdose fatalities caused by prescription opioids.

A study published in the May 1, 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that of the 42,249 opioid-related deaths in 2016, 19,413 involved synthetic opioids, while 17,087 were due to prescription opioids and  15,469 involved heroin.

More than 79% of synthetic opioid deaths also involved another drug or alcohol, with "another opioid" and heroin listed as the most commonly co-involved substances (47.9% and 29.8%, respectively).

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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