With the opioid epidemic continuing to march full speed ahead, stakeholders are mounting pressure to help curb the impact. The clinical community is taking aim at reducing the practice of overprescribing and medical schools now focus on addiction prevention.
And, the research community is also working on a pharmacological approach – developing cutting edge pain relievers that don’t have the negative side effects like nausea, respiratory depression and addiction.
There are currently several new compounds under development that hope to deliver the same opioid level of relief but without the hefty health risks. One experimental synthetic opioid, UMB425, has proven, thus far, to deliver promising results.
Researchers at the University of Maryland at Baltimore have been working on developing painkillers on par with OxyContin and Percocet, but without the addictive qualities of those drugs.
“We designed this so that when you discontinue the drug, the patient doesn’t go into withdrawal symptoms,” said Andrew Coop, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy who’s leading the research. “We have shown that it doesn’t cause dependency. At the moment, we’ve shown this just in animals.”
While the initial trials involving mice have been successful, UMB425 is still several years away from being available on the market. Scientists will first need to demonstrate that it delivers the same non-addictive results in humans and pass requirements set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Until UMB425 is fully vetted and finally proven to deliver on its promise, others in the addiction research community applaud their work while remaining cautiously optimistic.
“Now that we know just how deadly these products are, I think there’s a higher bar to (FDA approval) than there has been historically. And for good reason,” said Dr. Caleb Alexander, Co-Director of Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “For far too long we have overestimated the effectiveness of these drugs and underestimated their risks. They have been vastly overused at great detriment to the public health.”
Given the results published so far, the next generation of synthetic opioids like UMB425 may hold the key in the fight against the opioid epidemic. While there are many effective treatments available today, the most promising solution is one that prevents a physical dependency from occurring at all.
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