Scientists Receive $10 Million to Study Snail Venom as Opioid Painkiller Replacement

The U.S. Department of Defense recently awarded $10 million in federal funding to the University of Utah, where scientists are studying snail venom found to have natural painkiller abilities. The DOD hopes this new research will lead to the development of new painkillers that can replace opioids and that offer no risk for physical dependence and addiction. Painkillers and illicit opioids like heroin caused more than 33,000 overdose deaths in 2015, and more than 53,000 overdose deaths in 2016.

The Presence of Natural Painkillers in Marine Wildlife

Snail Venom

Snail venom has been shown to reduce pain naturally.

The cone snail, which is most commonly found in the Caribbean Sea, uses its venom to stun and eat prey. Researchers involved in the new study have been studying cone snail venom for decades, and have found that portions of the venom are highly effective at reducing pain naturally.

In 2004, cone snail venom was used to create a drug called Prialt, which can be injected into the spinal cord to reduce pain when opioids like morphine are no longer effective. However, Prialt is used sparingly among doctors due to its method of administration. Now, with extra funding provided by the DOD, the same scientists will work on developing a similar drug that can be taken in pill form — making this pain reliever option more accessible to doctors and their patients.

The Effects of Opioids vs Snail Venom

Opioids reduce pain by binding to opioid receptors in the brain that control feelings of pain and pleasure. The effects of opioids include relaxation, sedation, and euphoria. But when used for more than two weeks, opioids can cause tolerance and physical dependence, which increases the risk for an overdose, as well as addiction.

Cone snail venom has the ability to reduce pain just like opioids, but uses different pathways to offer pain relief and reduce inflammation. The scientists at University of Utah aim to discover a higher number of marine life compounds that work like opioids but that do not offer adverse effects such as depressed respiration and extreme drowsiness.

Opioid Addiction Treatments

Opioid use in America has led to a nationwide epidemic resulting in thousands of overdose deaths. But opioid addiction can be safely and effectively treated at opioid treatment centers that offer detox and therapy.

Opioid dependence is commonly treated using medication-assisted treatment, or MAT — a detox method involving the use of medications that bind to opioid receptors in the brain but that do not offer feelings of pain relief and euphoria. Patients who detox from opioids using MAT can completely avoid drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and recover from opioid addiction while performing normal everyday tasks. Methadone, buprenorphine, and Suboxone are medications commonly used as part of MAT.

Opioid dependence can also be treated using a medical detox or medically supervised detox in an inpatient treatment center. These detox methods allow patients to withdraw from painkillers in a safe, controlled medical environment surrounded by nurses and doctors who monitor vitals and lower the risk for potential complications. Following detox, patients can receive therapy to learn how to stay sober and control negative thoughts and behaviors influencing them to abuse opioids.

If you or someone you love needs help recovering from opioid addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) . Our caring drug abuse counselors will discuss all your local treatment options and help you find the nearest drug detox center ready to help you achieve an addiction-free lifestyle.

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