A New Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Mon, April 19, 2021

A New Treatment for Opioid Addiction

An estimated 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017 and this included the use of illicit drugs such as opioids / Photo by: AppleZoomZoom via Shutterstock


An estimated 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017 and this included the use of illicit drugs such as opioids. Nearly 30,000 overdose deaths were reported to be caused primarily by fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, which are types of opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 


What Are Opioids?

Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that interact with a person’s opioid receptors on the different nerve cells in the body and brain to reduce the feeling of pain. Opioids are a type of drug that is used as pain management medication. These are usually pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol. Doctors and healthcare providers normally give a prescription for opioids to reduce pain after a person has had a major injury or operation. Other times, it can be used for pain management for cancer patients and people who have chronic pain. However, doctors are cautious when prescribing this medication because it can be misused and have potential risks. 

Opioid misuse and addiction mean that a person is not taking the medicine according to the doctor’s instructions or they take someone else’s opioids and use them to get high. Opioid addiction is a chronic mental disease, and it can cause a person to compulsively seek out drugs even though it can cause them harm, according to Medline Plus, a website that publishes medical news from the US National Library of Medicine. 

Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that interact with a person’s opioid receptors on the different nerve cells in the body and brain to reduce the feeling of pain / Photo by: Steve Heap via Shutterstock


Opioid Use Disorder 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, opioids can produce high levels of positive reinforcements, hence it can increase the odds of people abusing them even after they have managed the pain. It is a chronic, long-term, or even lifelong disorder with severe potential consequences that include disability, relapses, and in many cases, death. 

In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, opioid use disorder is described as a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to problems or distress that can make someone take a larger amount of drugs over a longer period of time, persist in their use of the drug, spend a long time obtaining or using the opioid, crave or have strong desires to use, have problems in fulfilling tasks and obligations, and give up normal activities. 

Opioid use disorder has similar symptoms as with other substance abuse disorders, and it can lead to physical dependence within a short time. In chronic opioid users, abruptly stopping can lead to severe generalized pain, chills, cramps, dilated pupils, restlessness, anxiety, vomiting, insomnia, and nausea. 

New Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder 

A novel study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing published in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal showed that there is evidence for glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists in opioid reinforcement and analgesic responses. The researchers conducted an experiment in which they established models of opioid-taking and seeking behaviors in rats and

discovered that a systematic administration of the GLP-1 receptor agonist exendin-4 reduced oxycodone self-administration and the reinstatement of the oxycodone-seeking behavior. 

According to Yafang Zhang, a post-doctoral fellow at Penn Nursing and the lead author of the study, their findings showed a new and innovative role for the GLP-1 receptors in opioid abusive behavior and it suggests that the central GLP-1 receptors can serve as targets for new medications aimed at treating opioid use disorder without actually affecting the opioid-induced analgesic responses, as reported on Science Daily, a neuroscience and human behavioral news website. 

Michelle Kahng, Jaclynn Elkind, and Vanessa Weir, co-authors of the study from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, explained that the activation of the GLP-1 receptor can actually reduce the oxycodone taking or abusive behavior of opioid users. They claimed that this can be a new way to treat opioid use disorders and a more affordable manner of treatment, especially for patients who don’t have much funds for other medication and therapy. 

Currently, only one out of four people with opioid use disorder receive the treatment that they need. Medication-assisted treatment is very effective for people with opioid dependency. It includes the use of medication along with counseling and other forms of behavioral therapies. Moreover, the brain chemistry of individuals can contribute to how the person reacts to this kind of treatment, hence, trial and error when it comes to medication may be needed. Medications are used to relieve the symptoms of craving opioids, relieve the withdrawal symptoms, and also block the good or euphoric effects of opioids. 

Furthermore, therapies typically involve a cognitive-behavioral approach—doctors would often encourage motivation to change the person’s behavior and educate them about the treatment in order to prevent a relapse. These kinds of therapy often include participation in self-help programs, group therapy, and also one-on-one talk sessions with a professional psychiatrist or medical professional. 

This new opioid use disorder management that the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have come up with can have potential success in the treatment of opioid addiction and save lives.