Potential treatment for opioid withdrawal discovered

pharmafile | February 1, 2017 | News story | Medical Communications, Research and Development University of Calgary, gout, opioid 

Researchers from the University of Calgary have found that medication used to treat gout could also lessen the side-effects experienced by those suffering from opioid withdrawal. The discovery is particularly important due to the opioid crisis that has begun to sweep North America.

The scientists looked into whether the medication, probenecid, could display reduced signs of opioid withdrawal in mice. The drug was focussed upon due to its effect upon microglia, which are immune cells located in the brain and in the spinal cord. The immune cells play a key role in withdrawal symptoms. The study found that the medication suppressed microglia cells in mice, which then translated into reduced signs of withdrawal.

Opioid withdrawal is one of the primary reasons that people are unable to beat addiction to opioids. The symptoms of withdrawal are numerous and include muscle aches, joint pain, diarrhoea and nausea.

The opioid crisis in North America is becoming a serious issue, with 914 drug overdoses in British Columbia, Canada, alone in 2016; while in Ontario as opioids were responsible for as many as 700 deaths. A report by Canadian physicians put non-medical opioid use at one in 20 adults and one in six adolescents, with figures steadily rising over the last two decades.

The drug used in the research, probenecid, is already approved for the treatment of gout and therefore should be quicker than a new substance to pass through regulatory bodies. It was previously used to treat gout but has now been replaced by newer medications. However, it could still be years before the treatment is made available, even if it were to prove efficacy in human trials.

“It gives us a new potential therapeutic target,” said leader researcher Tuan Trang to the Canadian Press. “So it could be another drug that we could use in combination with some of the existing therapies to help an individual get past this episode of withdrawal and maybe help them get off of opioids”.

The next step is testing within humans to see if it can have the same benefits as in mice. The preparation for clinical trial for a small group of patients has already begun.

Ben Hargreaves

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