Morphine is a powerful painkiller for patients in severe, chronic pain. The controversial issue is it can be highly addictive, so doctors need to be aware of dosages, and the frequency of those dosages.
There could be a new alternative, that scientists are already testing: a new painkiller, supposedly as strong as morphine’s effects, but without the addictive properties.
Several engineered variants of the neurochemical endomorphin are being compared to morphine, gauging the effectiveness and side effects to one another. Testing the peptide-based drug on rats, they seem to target the same pain-relieving opioid receptor as morphine.
Opium-based drugs, like morphine, are the best for chronic pain, with the only downside being the addictive nature. Their abuse results in thousands of overdose deaths in the United States annually.
This new drug can potentially remedy that.
“These side effects were absent or reduced with the new drug,” says lead investigator James Zadina, a professor of medicine, pharmacology, and neuroscience at Tulane University School of Medicine.
“It’s unprecedented for a peptide to deliver such powerful pain relief with so few side effects.”
Scientists even experiemented with higher dosages of the drug, which didn’t harm or slow down the breathing in rats. If the same amount of morphine was given to a patient, they’d suffer from significant respiratory depression and impaired motor skills.
Perhaps the most telling test from the trials was one that’s predictive of human drug abuse. The rats were presented a bar that would first dispense the new drug, then morphine in another; the rodents only increased efforts to obtain morphine, and not the new drug.
Human clinical trials are expected to begin within the next two years.