New Painkiller Is as Strong as Morphine, But Not as Addictive

FEBRUARY 03, 2016
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick
pain management, addiction medicine, chronic pain, morphine, pharmacyOne of the main concerns tied to prescription painkillers is their addictive properties. But those worries may be put to rest with the development of a new drug that provides the same relief without the side effects.

The body’s natural neurochemical, endomorphin, is a safer alternative to morphine, according to researchers from Tulane University and Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. With nearly 15,000 deaths due to prescription painkiller overdoses each year in the United States, this discovery could help save lives.

Endomorphin is a peptide-based drug and morphine is opium-based; however, both target the same pain-relieving opioid receptor. But which one works better? The team used rats in order to compare the efficacy and side effects. Not only did the endomorphin drug provide longer pain relief, but it did so without causing respiratory depression like the morphine did. In addition, motor coordination was impaired with morphine but not endomorphin, according to the findings in Neuropharmacology. Morphine is known to trigger spinal glial cell activation which contributes to tolerance. The new drug was shown to produce far less tolerance and did not trigger the same inflammatory effect in the spinal glial cell.

“These side effects were absent or reduced with the new drug. It’s unprecedented for a peptide to deliver such powerful pain relief with so few side effects,” lead investigator James Zadina, PhD, from Tulane University School of Medicine, said in a news release.

Multiple experiments were done to see if the animal models would show addictive behaviors with the new drug. One test showed that the rats increased efforts in order to get the morphine but not the endomorphin. Another one showed that the animals spent more time in the morphine area.

The researchers hope to move the drug to human clinical trials within the next two years.

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