A Painkiller Without Addictive Side Effects Could Be On Its Way

By Paul Gaita 02/04/16

Scientists claim the medicine is as strong as morphine but is less likely to be addictive.

A Painkiller Without Addictive Side Effects Could Be On Its Way
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Scientists at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans are conducting tests to see if a drug can be produced that will relieve pain without the dangerous and addictive side effects associated with opioids. The tests compared several engineered analogs of endormorphins, which are chemical substances produced within the body that affect a variety of physical and mental functions that are related to pain, stress and the physiological effects created by those conditions. Scientists have long believed that endormorphins are the key to producing a number of pharmaceutical drugs to treat pain and diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The tests, which were conducted using rats as subjects, targeted the mu opioid receptor, the same pain-relieving receptor affected by the use of morphine. The new endomorphin drugs produced lengthy relief from pain without slowed breathing or impairment of motor coordination, two of the key side effects of morphine use. The endomorphins also produced far less tolerance than morphine-based drugs, and additional experiments to determine the addictive properties of the medication found that the rats did not seek to increase their intake of the new drug in the same manner as they would have acted with morphine. When rats were subjected to a test in which a bar could be triggered to produce a new infusion of the drug, the animals only increased efforts to receive morphine and not the new medication.

“These side effects were absent or reduced with the new drug,” said James Zadina, a professor of medicine, pharmacology and neuroscience at Tulane University School of Medicine. “It’s unprecedented for a peptide (a short chain of amino acid monomers which link other substances) to deliver such powerful pain relief with so few side effects. The research team hopes to begin human clinical trials of the new endomorphin within the next two years." 

Should the trials prove effective, the drugs could be important tools in curbing the epidemic of opioid abuse in the United States. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control report than in 2014 alone, more than 47,000 Americans died from drug overdose, and some form of opioid, including heroin, caused more than 28,000 of those fatalities. 

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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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