A New New Painkiller that May End Opioid Addiction
James Zadina, the lead researcher at the Tulane School of Medicine and Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, has been looking for a way to give people comfort from pain for 20 years.Dedication has paid off. Zadina and his team have recently engineered a new painkiller that is the same strength as morphine but without the devastating side effects of opiates . . . . with which we’re all sadly familiar:
- Physical dependence brought on by increased tolerance.
- Motor impairment.
- Respiratory depression which leads to the majority of opioid-related deaths.
Zadina is poignant in stating his research goal, “I want to take away the dilemma that both patients and physicians face, of ‘Do I treat this pain adequately and risk addiction or do I treat the pain inadequately because I don’t want to use opioids”? That’s what drives me.”
In the 1990s, Zadina and fellow researchers isolated a previously undiscovered neurochemical in the brain, a pain-numbing substance they named endomorphin. Recently, they’ve tested rats with something called “engineered endomorphin”. The endomorphin variants targeted the same pain-relieving opioid receptor to which morphine binds. Basically, these endomorphin variants provide the identical relief from pain as morphine but without the toxic side effects of morphine AND are not likely to be addictive.
Researchers hope clinical trials of the endomorphin drug will be tested on humans in the next two years. The trials can’t come too soon. In 2014, the number of deaths from opioid overdoses in the United States topped 18,000, about 50 a day—more than three times the number in 2001. And that doesn’t even take into account painkiller addicts who have turned to heroin to soothe their cravings