An effective and non-addictive painkiller has been developed by researchers at Tulane University with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. The new compound has been in the works since a 1997 discovery of a brain receptor.
The Centers for Disease Control says more than 47,000 people died in 2014 in the US by using pain relievers and heroin. Scientists are anxious to find an alternative to those opium-based drugs.
Tulane researchers used rats to test a compound based on a neurochemical found naturally in the body against morphine. They targeted the areas of the brain that relieve pain.
Professor and lead investigator James Zadina says results showed the new formula was effective without being addictive or developing higher tolerance levels. Zadina says it was evident when the rats didn’t struggle for more drugs available by hitting a spot in the lab equipment.
“With morphine they will work pretty hard. They will increase how often they press the bar to get that IV infusion of morphine but they don’t do that with our compound. And that’s probably one of the best tests of whether it’s like to be abused by humans," he said.
Zadina says the new compound also didn’t slow the respiratory system.
“You overdose with opioids, with heroin, and you take too much, the reason you die is because of respiratory depression," he said.
The next phase of the research will be determining doses for humans. Clinical trials could begin within two years.