Study suggests failed osteoarthritis drug could help treat opioid addiction

February 27, 2018, Indiana University
Credit: Susan Buck Ms/Public Domain

A new study from Indiana University suggests that a drug proven safe for use in people may prevent opioid tolerance and physical dependence when used in combination with opioid-based pain medications.

Researchers in the Linda and Jack Gill Center for Biomolecular Science at IU Bloomington have discovered that a compound previously tested to treat osteoarthritis appears to block neuropathic pain and decrease signs of opioid dependence. The work is reported in the journal Molecular Pharmacology.

Human trials of the drug to treat osteoarthritis pain conducted by Indianapolis-based drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Co. found that the drug lacked efficacy. However, the drug's use in treating other kinds of pain and lessening had not been tested before.

"The potential to quickly begin using this compound in combination with opioid-based medication to treat pain and reduce addiction makes this discovery very significant," said lead investigator Andrea G. Hohmann, a Linda and Jack Gill Chair of Neuroscience and professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "We already know this drug is safe for use in people, so moving into human trials will not require as many regulatory hurdles."

The need for non-addictive alternatives to opioid-based pain medication is urgent due to the rapid rise in overdose deaths over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, including from illicit drugs and prescription opioids. To tackle this issue, IU last year launched the Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge initiative to invest $50 million to prevent and reduce addictions in Indiana.

To test the potential of the experimental drug to treat pain and reduce addiction symptoms, IU scientists administered the compound and the opioid to male mice with . While morphine initially reduced the pain, mice quickly developed tolerance to morphine's effectiveness, similar to people who require higher doses of opioid over time to achieve relief.

However, when a low dose of the experimental drug was combined with morphine, the mice no longer became tolerant to morphine, and that lack of tolerance remained even after the experimental drug was discontinued. The researchers also found the experimental drug could produce sustained pain relief on its own at higher doses.

In another experiment, mice were given either morphine alone or morphine in combination with the experimental drug, and then treated with naloxone, which blocks the effect of opioids and induces opioid withdrawal symptoms. Remarkably, Hohmann said, the experimental drug also decreased the severity of these symptoms.

Together, these results suggest the could be used in combination with opioids to prevent tolerance, allowing satisfactory pain treatment with fewer side effects, or as a means to wean opioid-tolerant individuals off these drugs.

The researchers chose to explore the failed osteoarthritis because they had found that the compound acted in a unique way upon a target in the body known to play a role in pain relief.

Explore further: Safer opioid drugs could treat pain and save lives

More information: Xiaoyan Lin et al, Slowly Signaling G Protein–Biased CB2Cannabinoid Receptor Agonist LY2828360 Suppresses Neuropathic Pain with Sustained Efficacy and Attenuates Morphine Tolerance and Dependence, Molecular Pharmacology (2017). DOI: 10.1124/mol.117.109355

Related Stories

Safer opioid drugs could treat pain and save lives

December 5, 2017
Opioid drugs are the most widely prescribed and effective type of pain medication. But they are highly addictive and have some unpleasant and potentially deadly side effects.

Understanding pain exacerbation with opioid use

February 5, 2018
A new study published in JNeurosci advances understanding of how the potent opioid analgesic fentanyl can increase pain sensitivity in animals. These findings could inform the development of treatments for chronic pain that ...

New drug target could prevent tolerance and addiction to opioids, neuroscience study finds

August 22, 2016
Researchers have identified a brain mechanism that could be a drug target to help prevent tolerance and addiction to opioid pain medication, such as morphine, according to a study by Georgia State University and Emory University.

Pre-clinical study suggests path toward non-addictive painkillers

October 25, 2017
A pre-clinical study led by Indiana University scientists reports a promising step forward in the search for pain relief methods without the addictive side effects behind the country's current opioid addiction crisis.

Combining epilepsy drug, morphine can result in less pain, lower opioid doses

September 15, 2014
Adding a common epilepsy drug to a morphine regimen can result in better pain control with fewer side effects. Moreover, the combination can reduce the dosage of the opioid needed to be effective, according to a team of pain ...

Scientists reveal new avenue for drug treatment in neuropathic pain

November 24, 2017
New research from King's College London has revealed a previously undiscovered mechanism of cellular communication, between neurons and immune cells, in neuropathic pain.

Recommended for you

Drug overdose epidemic has been growing exponentially for decades

September 20, 2018
Death rates from drug overdoses in the U.S. have been on an exponential growth curve that began at least 15 years before the mid-1990s surge in opioid prescribing, suggesting that overdose death rates may continue along this ...

Anti-cancer drugs may hold key to overcoming antimalarial drug resistance

September 20, 2018
Scientists have found a way to boost the efficacy of the world's most powerful antimalarial drug with the help of chemotherapy medicines, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.

Probiotic use may reduce antibiotic prescriptions, researchers say

September 14, 2018
Use of probiotics is linked to reduced need for antibiotic treatment in infants and children, according to a review of studies that probed the benefits of probiotics, say researchers in the U.S., England and the Netherlands.

Recalled blood pressure drugs not linked to increased short term cancer risk

September 12, 2018
Products containing the withdrawn blood pressure drug valsartan are not associated with a markedly increased short term risk of cancer, finds an expedited analysis published by The BMJ today.

Sugar pills relieve pain for chronic pain patients

September 12, 2018
Someday doctors may prescribe sugar pills for certain chronic pain patients based on their brain anatomy and psychology. And the pills will reduce their pain as effectively as any powerful drug on the market, according to ...

A new approach for finding Alzheimer's treatments

September 11, 2018
Considering what little progress has been made finding drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease, Maikel Rheinstädter decided to come at the problem from a totally different angle—perhaps the solution lay not with the peptide ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

LaPortaMA
not rated yet Feb 27, 2018
decrease signs of opioid dependence.
DonGateley
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2018
Does the drug lack a name or is it a secret?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.