The Future of Treating Opioid Addiction is Prevention

In St. Louis, the much reported on ‘opioid epidemic’ affects families just like other cities and towns across America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 63,000 Americans died in 2016 due to drug overdoses with 66 percent of those being attributed to opioids or complications from opioid use disorder (OUD) and addiction. Many of these come from the use of prescription painkillers that are administered by physicians for problems like chronic pain and recovery after surgery or major injury.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are studying a new drug that may replace opioid prescriptions entirely. D.P. Mohapatra, Ph.D. and his team there have been researching and analyzing the effectiveness and possible side effects of a painkiller currently referred to as EMA 401.

“Our scientific approach is if we understand how pain works or how pain is processed, we could possibly develop much better and more effective drugs,” Mohapatra said with regards to the research being conducted. The current opioids being prescribed work by attaching themselves onto receptors of nerve cells present in the brain and spinal cord. This creates a barrier to pain being reported to the processor of the brain that decodes signals sent. The result is a dulled sensation of pain and a general calming effect. The problem with using opioids arises when higher doses are needed or are taken by a patient addicted to the drug which can slow breathing and heart rate to the point where the user can die since other signals become blocked inadvertently.

The new drug being studied at Washington University, however, works by targeting immune cells at the site of nerve injury which generate the pain signals. By muffling the frequency of the signals sent at the source of the pain, the side effects present in opioids due to their involvement with the spine and brain simply aren’t an issue. So far, the drug has proven to alleviate pain in shingles patients in a clinical trial. Current plans for further testing include patients with diabetes and patients with chronic pain resulting from cancer and chemotherapy. Clinical trials require vigorous and in depth testing to pass FDA requirements for use. Much of this is dictated by funding for the research itself.

The current state of research, if continued at the current rate and funded, would allow the drug to be put into public trials in 5 to 7 years. Mohapatra believes drugs like EMA 401 would help tremendously in the fight against opioid addiction crisis that has been ongoing for the last several years.

If you or someone you know may be dealing with possible addiction to opioids, other drugs or alcohol, Northbound in St. Louis offers individualized treatment. Call 866-311-0003 to speak with a counselor about available treatment options.

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