'Tweaked' Fentanyl May Offer Non-Addictive Pain Relief

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'Tweaked' Fentanyl May Offer Non-Addictive Pain Relief

By Victoria Kim 03/07/17

Scientists are studying the benefits of a chemically altered form of fentanyl that can target areas of inflammation.

Image: 
Scientist studying substance.

A new type of painkiller may offer effective pain relief without the side effects or risk of overdose.

A research team from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin reported on its findings last Thursday (March 2) in the journal Science. Using computer simulation, they were able to chemically alter fentanyl to have a less powerful and more precise effect on pain.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that’s traditionally found in hospitals, but lately it's become popular on the black market. It’s said that fentanyl is mixed with heroin to boost the drug’s potency, which has only exacerbated the rate of drug overdose throughout the United States. 

The research team “tweaked” fentanyl so that it wouldn’t affect the whole body, but only tissue that was inflamed or in pain. They did this by chemically altering the drug to work only in more acidic conditions, which is typical in damaged, inflamed muscle tissue.

The result is the prototype NFEPP, “a novel opioid analgesic [pain reliever] of similar efficacy to conventional fentanyl” without the side effects, the researchers concluded.

Not only was NFEPP able to target specific areas of the body in tests on rats, the researchers say there’s a much smaller risk of developing addiction or overdosing on the prototype.

“In contrast to conventional opioids, our NFEPP-prototype appears to only bind to, and activate, opioid receptors in an acidic environment,” said the researchers. “This means it produces pain relief only in injured tissues, and without causing respiratory depression, drowsiness, the risk of dependency, or constipation.”

This is a welcome development in the search for a safer painkiller alternative for the estimated 100 million Americans who live with chronic pain

In Washington state, the recent crackdown on the prescribing of opioid pain medication left thousands of patients dependent on pain pills suddenly cut off. 

The growing epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose has only made life more uncomfortable for pain patients, who say they’re the victims of nationwide efforts to scale back opioid prescribing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 people died from opioid-related causes (including prescription painkillers and heroin) in 2015. Nearly half of all fatal opioid overdoses were related to a prescription painkiller.

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