Scientists Find Cure For Opioid Addiction

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Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia and the University of Colorado have discovered a way to block heroin and morphine addiction while simultaneously increasing pain relief. This discovery could help end opioid addiction and provide patients with a safe and powerful painkiller.

Opioid addiction develops frequently as a result of a prescription for pain relief medication. Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms often occur in patients who habitually use pain relievers.

This new discovery is a major breakthrough in the fight to end drug addiction. According to the National Institute of Health, about 9% of Americans abuse opioids, whether illegal or prescription, during their lifetimes.

Dr. Mark Huntchinson, the study’s lead author and research fellow at the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences, said “we know that drugs like morphine drive a reward system that causes elevations of dopamine in the brain. Our work suggested [nervous system] pathways are important, but 90% of the cells in the brain are glia, which are immune cells. So we hypothesized that the immune system was propable involved in drug rewards a well, and we showed it was”.

Hutchinson’s team took a new approach when they decided to focus primarily on the immune system’s response to drugs. Typical treatments for opioid addiction focus mostly on treating the central nervous system alone. The decision to focus on the immune system led Hutchinson’s team to discover the effects on the immune receptor TLR4.

“Our paper shows that opioids bing to this receptor TLR4” said Hutchingson. “TLR4 is known as the receptor that causes anaphylactic shock… It also recognizes morphine, and in the brain, this causes the immune cells to hijack the reward pathways and drive pathological rewards to morphine”, which can amplify addiction.

The new drug will block the TLR4 receptors, which prevent drug rewards from presenting themselves.

The drug is called (+)-naloxone and has been proven to selectively block the immune response to morphine, which blocks the patient’s need to continue taking opioids. It essentially changes the neurochemistry of the brain to stop producing dopamine in the presence of opioid drugs.

Hutchinson hopes that focusing on the immune response to opioids will provide pain relief to patients without the risks of addiction. This drug has the dual benefits of treating drug addiction and providing powerful pain relief without dangerous side effects.

“This isn’t a treatment just for drug addicts,” said Hutchinson, “this could really have implications for the population’s health, by making opioid medications – which are great for pain relief – a whole lot better.”

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