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Scientists find way to block opioid addiction without affecting pain relief

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August 14, 2012

Researchers have found a way to block addiction to various opioid drugs, including heroin ...

Researchers have found a way to block addiction to various opioid drugs, including heroin and morphine, without negatively affecting the pain-relieving properties of these drugs (Photo: Shutterstock)

Unlike the heroin-specific vaccine we covered last year, an international team of scientists from the University of Adelaide in Australia and the University of Colorado Boulder has now found a way to block addiction to various opioid drugs, including heroin and morphine. Importantly, the new approach doesn’t negatively affect the pain-relieving properties of these drugs.

The central nervous system and the immune system both play important roles in the development of an addiction, with opioid drugs such as heroin and morphine binding to an immune receptor known as Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) in a similar way to the normal immune response to bacteria. Dr. Mark Hutchinson, ARC Research Fellow in the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences says, “The problem is that TLR4 then acts as an amplifier for addiction.”

In studies on rats using (+)-naloxone, a drug that automatically shuts down the opioid addiction by altering brain chemistry to stop production of the feel-good chemical dopamine, the researchers found that blocking the immune response is all that is required to prevent cravings for opioid drugs.

“Our studies have shown conclusively that we can block addiction via the immune system of the brain, without targeting the brain’s wiring,” said Hutchinson, who was lead author of the study.

“This work fundamentally changes what we understand about opioids, reward and addiction,” adds senior author Professor Linda Watkins, from the Center for Neuroscience at CU-Boulder. “We’ve suspected for some years that TLR4 may be the key to blocking opioid addiction, but now we have the proof.

“The drug that we’ve used to block addiction, (+)-naloxone, is a non-opioid mirror-image drug that was created by Dr. Kenner Rice in the 1970s,” Watkins said. “We believe this will prove extremely useful as a co-formulated drug with morphine, so that patients who require relief for severe pain will not become addicted but still receive pain relief. This has the potential to lead to major advances in patient and palliative care.”

The researchers say clinical trials may be possible within the next 18 months.

The results of their study are being published in the August 15 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: University of Adelaide

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
12 Comments

sounds like it should able to help existing addict to wean off addiction as well. good news indeed.

Calvin k
15th August, 2012 @ 07:12 am PDT

does it work for someone who is already addicted?

Koala
15th August, 2012 @ 09:30 am PDT

Probably because the actual pain relieving properties of morphine and its ilk are negligible. I found that out when I broke my knee.

You can still feel everything, it's just kind of "over there somewhere" because you're so disoriented by the drug. Purple haze, indeed!

In my experience, Ibuprofin (Advil Liqui-Gels) was way better than morphine.

Jon A.
15th August, 2012 @ 12:51 pm PDT

But will it get Darvon N100 (Propoxyphene Napsylate) back on the market? That was an inexpensive yet powerful pain medication.

Napsylate was added to make it insoluble in water and nearly impossible to convert into an injectable form as can be done with Propoxyphene Hydrochloride.

There's two reasons it got pulled. For one it was long off-patent and cheap. The second was because it's an opioid and practically since it was first developed some nuts have been hollering that some people might get addicted to it. Some of those nuts want all opioids banned simply because they are partially chemically similar to opium. (The pharmacology version of the anti-nuclear, anything "nuke" is bad sort of person.)

If a person does manage to get addicted to Darvon, quitting it "cold turkey" works quickly, with the drug being flushed from the body within hours.

Don't confuse it with Darvocet (Dextropropoxyphene Paracetamol). If you can't take Tylenol (paracetamol AKA acetaminophen) you can't take Darvocet.

It's possible to overdose and have bad effects from just about any drug, even aspirin. It's not the pills' fault if someone does that.

The VA prescribed Darvon N100 to my father for many years. One or two pills a day worked great on his back pain. In recent years the VA kept trying to switch his prescription to Darvocet and he kept having to get them to not do that because he cannot take Tylenol. He can't take codeine either. Once one of the VA docs told Dad he had to be careful with Darvon because he could get addicted to it. Dad replied "Are you addicted if you forget to take it?"

Since 2007 most formulations of Darvon and Darvocet have been off the market. The people determined to keep an affordable and very effective medication for severe pain off the market have won. :P

Gregg Eshelman
15th August, 2012 @ 03:02 pm PDT

Blocking dopamine, I wonder if this could make the patient more prone to depression?

wraith87
15th August, 2012 @ 04:32 pm PDT

Maybe we will now be able to get real pain control.

Pikeman
15th August, 2012 @ 05:29 pm PDT

I am not a doctor and know nothing about drugs but this report reminded me of an article I read years ago in a newspaper about an Isreali surgeon, Dr Andre Waismann, who spends his life curing drug addicts by just this technique i.e. washing out opiates from the receptors in the brain ( which causes the cravings ) whilst the patient is under general anesthesia . After waking up, the addict just needs to take a medication that "keeps the receptors in the brain blocked to any effect by narcotics.” Its a purely medical/mechanical approach inspired by his experience of wounded soldiers that had became hooked on morphine whilst in hospital. Seems to have worked since 1993.

It would be great if Adelaide Uni & Uni of Colorado could link their research with Dr Waismann to bring this approach up for International study and acknowledgement. Anything that works, for whatever reason , is far better than all the expensive and regression prone "treatments" tried around the world today. My best wishes to the success of this line of research to speedily bring about a new life to all those stuck in a nightmare existence.

Biggles
15th August, 2012 @ 10:25 pm PDT

Its somewhat unclear in this article what specificaly this does. It really only mentions that this drug, which btw has been on the market for ALONG time and has been used for people with drug addictions for awhile, only affects "cravings" which is only one part of addiction, does it just stop cravings or does it stop/disrupt the physical addiction/withdrawal cycle.

This also isnt the first time drugs like this have been used in this manner, that is combining them with the opiate of choice to mediate the physical dependancy, if indeed that is what its doing. They've used another drug, naltrexone in very small dosages combined with oxycodone, aswell as a morphine/naltrexone by the name of Embeda. Naltrexone and naloxone are both similar although different enough to have different classifications, but are both used in the same manner.

I am glad to see research is being done in this area as current treatments for addictions is woefully inadequate and we need to learn and understand all the underlying mechanisms that cause addiction so that they can be circumvented without stopping the pain-killing and other effects(including euphoria). Addiction isnt simple the fact that you feel good or it provides something good so thats its only normal that you will at some point have to "pay" for that through negative effects, all of the good things can be kept while eliminated the negative effects as they are related indirectly but can be seperated with proper scientific understanding. Its not a matter of if, but how long it takes to get to that point in my humble opinion.

Arahant
17th August, 2012 @ 11:04 am PDT

Opioid addiction is a terrible side effect for people suffering from chronic pain. It would be nothing short of amazing if this one simple change, merely to co-formulate morphine with 1970's (+)-naloxone, is all that was necessary to prevent the addiction.

Because the suffering of addiction must be nearly as bad as the suffering due to chronic pain.

Grunchy
20th August, 2012 @ 10:38 pm PDT

One of the very worst parts of being on opiate therapy is the fear that is always in the back of one's mind...what if, for some reason, I can't get my scrip filled next month! It's totally valid. Withdrawal is a major event. BUT, I need the pain relief. It DOES work for me. I would LOVE to try this. The peace of mind would be worth the world to me. I could live with no pain relief for a few days if I HAD to. Not sure I would live through withdrawals. So, if this is all it's advertised to be...addiction cured, pain relief intact, sign me up. I'm going to ask my doctor about this ASAP. (I've been on opiate therapy for nearly 10 years now.)

CarolinadeWitte
23rd August, 2012 @ 09:45 pm PDT

This sounds good in theory. But if you already are an opioid addict then you have the mental obsession even after the craving is gone. The craving and obsession are two different things. The obsession of the mind is what needs to be treated. Because if there was no obsession to use then you wouldnt use. Once you have used you then activate the phenomenon of craving. So it would be good to get rid of the craving for a temporary fix, but with the mental obsession you will eventually get loaded again. Or you will b e miserable fighting the obsession. But if you are progressed in your illness there is a scant chance of white knuckling it the rest of your life. we must be rid of self or it kills us.

opiophile
1st October, 2013 @ 02:48 am PDT

If you are a chronic pain patient does it matter if you become "addicted" to your monthly prescription of pain reducing medication? You are filling that bottle every month with or without a drug dependance because of the pain.

REScott
26th March, 2014 @ 03:34 am PDT
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