New Opioid Addiction Treatments
Experts are now examining “smarter” opioids, easier access to addiction treatment drugs, and training for doctors as potential ways to quell the opioid crisis. This is because, by all accounts, the opioid addiction problem is an epidemic.
In fact, since 2000, there’s been a 200 percent surge in opioid-related overdose deaths here in the United States. Just in 2016 alone, there were reports of over 63,000 from drug overdoses. Of them, slightly more than 42,000 of them were opioid-related, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The data is scary – there are now more opioid addiction-related deaths in the United States than there are breast cancer deaths.
Introducing a ‘smarter’ opioid
A study published today in the journal Cell concludes that it’s possible to create pain-relieving opioids that don’t cause side effects. These side effects include anxiety, nausea, and dependency. As they are, opioids bind to receptors on the cell surface. A team led by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine examined how the kappa opioid receptor (KOR), a protein on the cell surface, is activated. With that knowledge, the researchers say they developed a new drug-like compound that only activates that receptor. That way, the opioids only relieve pain and aren’t addictive.
Treating addiction with other drugs
While 12-step programs can work effectively to treat alcohol use disorder, that’s not the case for people addicted to opioids. Remedying opioid addiction with medication-assisted treatment is the most promising avenue, says Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. First, he notes, the country must prevent people from becoming addicted. That requires being more cautious in prescribing opioids. Prescribing practices have to change,” Kolodny told Healthline.
Second, it may be necessary to treat people who are already addicted with other drugs. The country as a whole, Kolodny said, isn’t making it easy to access these addiction-defeating drugs. Buprenorphine remains the best treatment for opioid addiction. It’ll soon be available as a monthly injection so people don’t have to remember to take a pill daily. However, Kolodny noted that although doctors can prescribe opioids, they’re more regulated when prescribing the treatment for opioid addiction. Physicians must complete an eight-hour training to apply for permission to prescribe buprenorphine under The Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000. The law grants a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) waiver to doctors who complete training to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder. There are limits on the numbers of patients a doctor can treat, though. Most of the doctors doing this don’t take insurance, so funding the treatment has to come out of pocket. Another challenge to getting treatment is that many people with an opioid addiction don’t know that buprenorphine is an effective treatment, Kolodny said. Along with buprenorphine, other FDA-approved options for treating opioid addiction include methadone and naltrexone. These are among the new opioid addiction treatments now being actively used.
The regulation route
Kolodny says doctors must be regulated and trained in prescribing opioids. In addition, restrictions that limit buprenorphine access must be lifted. Manufacturers must also be regulated, Kolodny added.
A multifaceted approach
Salsitz believes there are several methods that can be employed to ease the opioid crisis. Among them are wider Narcan distribution, more funding for prevention and treatment, decreasing the importation of fentanyl into the United States, and decreasing societal issues that result in increased vulnerability to opioid addiction. “There is no silver-bullet solution to the opioid epidemic,” Salsitz said. “A multipronged, multidimensional effort is required. Effective treatment exists. Greater accessibility is required.”
We must look at all the new opioid addiction treatments and evaluate them, as quickly and as safely as possible. Lives are at stake.