New Painkiller with Non-Addictive Properties Could Help End the Opioid Crisis

Prescription and illicit opioids kill more than 90 people in the U.S. every day. Opioids are highly effective at treating pain — yet all these drugs also carry a high risk for physical dependence and addiction. In the latest issue of the journal Cell, a group of scientists revealed that they recently discovered a way to make painkillers that only treat pain without binding to the pleasurable receptors that drive addiction.

Experimenting with Opioid Receptors to Lower Addiction Risk

Opioid Crisis

Scientists have developed a compound that only binds to the pain-relieving receptor.

In the new Cell report, scientists say they’ve developed a compound that only binds to the kappa-opioid receptor — the receptor that relieves feelings of pain. Traditionally, opioids bind to a number of receptors that not only relieve pain, but that induce feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and sedation. Opioid users who enjoy the euphoric effects of these drugs tend to abuse them, which often leads to addiction.

Scientists who led the study used 3D imaging technology to capture the kappa-opioid receptor in its activated state, then used that data to develop a synthetic compound that only activates that particular receptor. According to Christoph Stein, Ph.D. — an anesthesiology professor at the Free University of Berlin who was not involved in the study — this is the first time anyone has been able to obtain the structure of the kappa-opioid receptor in an active state. Though researchers are still a long way from making these non-addictive opioids available to consumers, this breakthrough could signal an end to the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis.

Safe Ways to Treat Pain Without the Risk for Addiction

While opioids are an effective option for pain management, anyone who uses these drugs are at high risk for dependence and addiction — including those who have never used opioids in the past, or who do not have a history of addiction. For those who wish to treat pain without opioids, the CDC suggests treatments such as acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Other therapies proven effective at treating pain include acupuncture, daily massage, and meditation.

If you or a loved one is using opioids to treat severe or chronic pain, talk to your doctor about other pain treatments that carry a lower risk for addiction. Your doctor can put you on a tapering schedule so you can withdraw from opioids gradually without experiencing withdrawal symptoms or related complications. Opioid dependence can also be safely treated at an opioid detox center.

Treating Opioid Dependence with Drug Detox

Drug detox centers commonly treat opioid dependence using medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. MAT replaces the opioid of abuse with other drugs that bind to the same receptors in the brain without producing the same effects of euphoria and sedation. This allows opioid users to discontinue opioids abruptly without suffering pain and discomfort in the form of withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, muscle pain, and insomnia.

Medications commonly used as part of MAT for opioid dependence include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. MAT can be administered in either an inpatient or outpatient rehab setting, though inpatient drug detox is normally recommended for those recovering from opioid addiction. An inpatient treatment setting also provides patients with counseling and therapy that help them overcome the core reasons behind their opioid addiction.

If you need help fighting opioid addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to speak with an experienced drug abuse counselor. We’ll discuss all your opioid detox options, and help you find the nearest drug detox center ready to guide you along the path to improved health and sobriety.

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