Step Aside Opioids – Promising New Painkillers Offer Hope

Step Aside Opioids – Promising New Painkillers Offer Hope

Opioid overdoses are now killing around 78 people in the U.S. per day. Around 100 million persons suffer from chronic pain, and 36 million admit to abusing prescription opioids. However, there’s another form of treatment – fancy new painkillers – which may be on the horizon.

In a study released just this morning, Duke University researchers announced they have identified a new class of painkillers which target different pain receptors than opioids. The study was funded by the National Institute of Health and was published in Scientific Reports.

Opioids and Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can be incredibly debilitating, and may hinder work, daily activities, and sleep. It is also responsible for enormous health care costs. And despite their widespread use, opioids may not work well for chronic pain.

In addition to their predilection for dependence and tolerance, over time opioids may cause hypersensitivity to pain. A study from the University of Colorado Boulder published this week revealed evidence that painkillers actually prolonged chronic pain in rats.

For two decades, opioids have increasingly found their place into the first line of treatment for pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, physicians wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers – enough to put one bottle in the hands of every adult American.

In addition, from 1999-2012, opioid overdose deaths among women increase by a incredible 400%, as well as 265% among men.

The New Drugs

The new class of drug targets two pain receptors in the brain known  as TRPV4 and TRPA1. These work in nerve cells to directly sense pain. The former is linked to join pain, while the later is thought linked to both pain and itching.

Both TRPV4 and TRPA1 belong to a family of TRP ion channels. Other researchers are now targeting these channels in clinical trials for pain cessation.

The drug was initially developed as a more powerful improvement over a past TRPV4 blocker. In the course of the research, it was discovered that the new drug also blocked TRPA1. One of the drugs, called “16-8” showed success in treating abdominal pain and pancreas inflammation in mice.

Dr. Woflgang Liedtke, neurology professor:

“As a physician, I soon realized the enormous potential that these compounds might have, given how beneficial dual-target molecules can be in clinical medicine”

Liedtke, who is a pain specialist, believes that the new painkillers could be used to alleviate headaches, jaw pain, osteoporosis, and nerve injuries.

If the medication reveals to be successful in humans, it could not only be life-changing for the 100 million Americans suffering from chronic pain, but possibly a safer alternative to the opioid painkillers currently used as a first defense. This is beyond exciting.