One issue that continually comes up when discussing opioids is why the drugs are made legal and available when they are addictive and dangerous. The answer is always the same: some people need them.
Opioids: Helpful or Hurtful?
If you’ve ever had a serious injury or surgery before, you realize the importance of having pain medications. Opioid painkillers like oxycodone and fentanyl are meant to be used for patients who are in extreme pain. When used accordingly and under the direction of a doctor, they are generally safe.
As we know, however, opioids don’t always stay in the hands of the pain patient, or they are misused by the patient. This is when dependency and addiction can easily occur. But if pain medications are necessary and need to be available for extreme cases, what can we do to fight the growing prescription drug epidemic?
A New Generation of Painkillers?
A recent article on CNBC discussed this issue and what scientists are doing to improve the situation. Currently, scientists are working on a new generation of painkillers that are just as effective as conventional opioids but don’t carry the same dangerous side effects.
For one, the drugs will work differently on the brain. They will bind to opioid receptors – proteins found in the brain, spinal cord and organs – but they will signal a different pathway. This route is where information travels from one molecule to another, which is different than how conventional opioids work. The belief is that the drugs won’t be as addictive.
Second, this new batch of drugs will be less likely to cause overdose deaths. With conventional painkillers, there are molecules that can lead to respiratory distress. These molecules won’t be contained in the new drugs and is a key objective for scientists.
What Compounds are Being Researched?
At this time, researchers have found promise with three new compounds:
· Oliceridine from pharmaceutical company Trevena has been given preferential treatment by the FDA.
· Mitragynine pseudoindoxyl is a compound that comes from the leaves of the Southeast Asian kratom plant and shows a reduced risk of addiction in lab rats.
· The compound PZM21 is in its early stages of research but has produced effects that are unlike anything seen before from conventional painkillers, according to researchers.
We will have to wait and see what comes of these drugs and if they will help us meet the needs of pain patients while taking addictive opioids off the streets.