New Opioid a Hopeful Step Toward Non-Addictive Pain Killers

Opioid addiction has become an epidemic of massive proportions in recent years, with overdoses now killing 44 people every day on average. But if a new drug works as hoped, it could eliminate the additive qualities that make opioids so dangerous.

The drug, known as BU08028, was recently tested in nonhuman primates, where it did not exhibit any addictive qualities. It also didn’t slow the subjects’ breathing or cause any cardiovascular issues, two side-effects that plague other painkillers.

hydrocodone-acetaminophen
The new drug could be less addictive than hydrocodone, seen here.

Here’s Randy Dotinga, reporting for HealthDay:

The experimental medication “has the potential to replace morphine as the gold standard for treating severe pain,” said Andrew Coop. He’s a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and is familiar with the new study findings.

BU08028 is related to the currently prescribed painkiller buprenorphine, but with a few changes. Like buprenorphine, it partially binds to a specific opioid receptor, which gives it pain-killing qualities. “Most opioids bind to more than one opioid receptor,” Jun-Xu Li, an associate professor of pharmacology at the University of Buffalo, wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That buprenorphine doesn’t bind to all receptors—and only partially binds to one—makes it less addictive.

There are still several hurdles for the drug to clear. For one, the results of animal studies don’t always translate to humans. If they do, there still will be years of clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of the drug in people. But pharmacologists are hopeful that this new candidate, or one very much like it, could be the drug that breaks the opioid addiction epidemic.