A newly developed drug may prove to be a safer alternative to morphine. Researchers behind the project have managed to engineer variants of endomorphin, a naturally occurring chemical in the body, that can effectively kill pain, but doesn’t have the addictive side effects that morphine is known for.
Currently, the findings are based on tests conducted on rats. And as is true of every medical breakthrough, clinical trials and approval from governing organizations will take some time. However, the successful experiment shows that there could be an equally powerful—but less dangerous—pain killer available in the future.
Morphine, which is an opium based drug, is commonly used to treat severe and chronic pain.
But its side effects include addiction, and patients also tend to build a tolerance as time goes on. This leads to patients taking higher doses, and these often lead to overdoses or drug abuse, in which case it can case motor impairment and fatal respiratory depression.
Of course, that's not to say that people who take morphine have a high risk of becoming addicted. The opposite it actually true (when one follows usage as prescribed by a doctor). However, "low risk"" is still risk, and it is obviously preferable to have none.
Ultimately, the bottomline is that morphine is a drug that can greatly reduce pain and provide much needed comfort to a host of individuals; however, it has to be strictly regulated in an effort to avoid the rising incidence of morphine related deaths.
The new drug may be a solution to these problems. It shows that it can deliver the same level of pain relief without its harmful side effects.
"These side effects were absent or reduced with the new drug," said pharmacologist and neuroscientist James Zadina from the Tulane University School of Medicine. "It's unprecedented for a peptide to deliver such powerful pain relief with so few side effects.
The press release outlines the significance of the study, noting that, "the new endomorphin drug produced longer pain relief without substantially slowing breathing in rats; a similarly potent dosage of morphine produced significant respiratory depression. Impairment of motor coordination, which can be of particular importance to older adults, was significant after morphine but not with the endomorphin drug."
So while this new treatment may be some ways off, it does offer a new hope.