Natural Opiate Nasal Spray Could Soon Replace Highly Addictive Opioids

A nasal spray that delivers painkillers directly to the brain could soon replace other more highly addictive opioids that now kill Americans at a rate of 115 people per day. The new nasal spray contains a natural opiate called enkephalin — a substance found to relieve pain without causing euphoria or tolerance. Scientists who developed the nasal spray say this fast-acting painkiller option delivers pain relief more quickly than morphine and fentanyl, and may carry a far lower risk for overdose and addiction.

How Does the Painkiller Nasal Spray Work?

opiate nasal spray

The nasal spray, which does not yet have a name, was developed by a group of scientists at University College London intent on developing a safer, less addictive drug to replace the painkillers causing thousands of overdoses across the U.S. The spray relieves pain by sending millions of soluble nanoparticles filled with the natural opiate enkephalin directly to the brain. The effects of other fast-acting painkillers like morphine and fentanyl usually take between 10 and 20 minutes to set in, while the effects of enkephalin can set in within just a few minutes.

Study author and professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience Ijeoma Uchegbu says natural opiates work differently in the body than synthetic opioids to relieve pain, and are less likely to trigger tolerance. Natural opiates can often be broken down and excreted from the body more efficiently than synthetic opioids, while traces of synthetic opioids can remain in the body for longer periods of time, and are more likely to cause tolerance and physical dependence.

Animals that received doses of the nasal spray in lab tests did not become tolerant to the medication, and did not seek future doses of the drug as a reward — a behavior commonly seen with addictive substances. The nasal spray will soon be tested on healthy humans to determine whether enkephalin produces euphoric effects that could lead to addiction. Details about this study were published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Controlled Release.

What’s the Difference Between Natural Opiates and Opioids?

The terms opiates and opioids are often used interchangeably, but opiates are extracted from natural opium poppies, while opioids may be wholly or partly synthetic, and contain active ingredients that mimic the effects of natural opiates. In short, opiates contain a higher number of natural compounds, while opioids are mostly comprised of man-made chemicals and compounds.

Examples of natural opiates are morphine, codeine, and heroin. Examples of synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids are fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone.

Uchegbu and her research team hypothesize that enkephalin can be broken down and processed more quickly by the liver than most other opioid painkillers, which is why the drug carries a lower risk for dependence. However, the remaining hurdle involves finding out whether the brain can process the compounds of this drug just as efficiently as the liver to eliminate the risk for addiction.

How to Treat Painkiller Dependence

If you or a loved one is coping with painkiller dependence, the safest way to get clean is to receive a professional drug detox at an opiate or opioid detox center. Painkiller dependence can be safely treated using a medical detox or medication-assisted treatment — both of which involve the use of medications like buprenorphine and methadone that relieve withdrawal symptoms. An opioid detox can also be conducted as a medically supervised detox, which is overseen by licensed medical staff who can monitor you through withdrawal and reduce your risk for related complications.

Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, bone pain, and insomnia, among many others. But medications used as part of detox protocol can eliminate these symptoms so you recover more quickly from opioid dependence with less pain and discomfort.

If you need help fighting painkiller dependence, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to learn more about your treatment options. We’ll conduct a free insurance verification check, and help you find the nearest opiate detox center ready to help you become healthier and addiction-free.

Get Help Today Phone icon 800-654-0987 Info icon Who Answers?