First Drug Treatment for Cocaine Addiction?

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There could soon be a drug treatment available for cocaine addicts who are trying to kick the habit. A researcher expects to begin human trials on a treatment this year.

Jia Bei Wang of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy is basing her research on a compound that is commonly used in her native China as a painkiller but is unknown in the United States.

“I saw the potential for l-THP,” Wang said of l-tetrahydropalmatine, a compound discovered in the extract of Chinese herbs.

Her effort is the first to develop a drug from this compound and, if successful, would be the first drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of cocaine addiction.

“For opiates like heroin, there is methadone," Wang said. "For alcohol and smoking, there are pharmaceutical paths to treatment. For cocaine, there is no FDA-approved medication. That’s a big holdup.”

Two trials on rats found that the compound reduced the cocaine “reward” to the brain. “But getting approval to use on humans is very different from working with animal cells,” Wang said.

Wang’s research is being funded by a five-year, $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

She provided NIDA with a sample of 1-THP for preliminary testing before receiving the grant. “They determined that it did have drug interaction on brain receptors.”

Wang said she is excited and optimistic about the upcoming research.

“In drug abuse, we don’t have the answers. We are looking for solutions,” she said. “I cannot be 100% sure, but I am hopeful we will come out with good news.”

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