New Depression Treatment Possible By Combining Buprenorphine and Naltrexone

By John Lavitt 08/18/15

Opioid addiction medicine like Suboxone could be used as part of antidepressant treatments.

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Research conducted on mice at the University of Bath in England suggests that combining a painkiller commonly used after surgery and a drug used to fight addiction may be a new antidepressant treatment, Medical Xpress reports.

Although many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are currently available, there is a need for newer depression therapies, as many people taking SSRIs—between 30% and 50%—do not respond adequately to them.

The combination the researchers are examining are buprenorphine, a painkiller, and naltrexone, an anti-addiction drug. Buprenorphine works by reducing a person’s response to stress by inhibiting a brain receptor known as the kappa opioid receptor. However, it also stimulates another receptor called the mu opioid receptor, which can lead a person to become addicted to buprenorphine if taken over a long period.

As a result of this, the researchers added naltrexone, which blocks the mu receptor. In the study with mice, the combination of the two drugs produced an antidepressant effect but without any addiction issues, they reported in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The researchers concede, however, that they have a long way to go before the buprenorphine-naltrexone combination may be available, as there needs to be human trials.

"It may be hard to deliver this combination in the clinic because of the properties of these drugs,” co-author Stephen Husbands, PhD, said in a statement. “We have also been working on changing the chemistry of buprenorphine so that it has the properties of this combination treatment in one molecule which should simplify drug delivery.”

Scientists at the University of Bath have identified that a combination of two existing licensed drugs could be used as a potential new treatment for depression.

Current antidepressants, called SSRIs, increase the amount of serotonin in the brain although the exact mechanism by which they work is still unclear. However, around 30-50% of these patients do not respond to treatment, it can take several weeks before the drugs take effect, and many patients suffer significant side effects.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.