Scientists Advance Toward Creating Non-Addictive Painkillers

A new generation of technology devices could prove effective at relieving pain and reduce or eliminate the need for prescription opioids in the coming years. This could dramatically reduce drug prescriptions and the number of drugs available on the black market, which in turn could sharply cut opioid addiction.

Most of the new devices are implanted or worn on patches, and reduce pain by disrupting nerve signals to the brain. They can simply be removed once they are no longer necessary, and they don’t appear to produce the addictive “high” common among opiates.

The FDA has approved a number of these devices, and many are now in clinical trials. Among the devices are:

·      Sprint PNS System, for pain in the back and extremities

·      Stimwave, for chronic pain

·      Quell, for all types of peripheral pain

·      Cefaly, for preventing migraines

The devices do have a few downsides. Implantables carry a small risk of infection, and may require users to carry a small device with them and recharge its batteries. Some devices are incompatible with pacemakers.

Devices approved by the FDA will typically be covered by most forms of insurance, including Medicare. But without insurance, the devices can be expensive, sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

On another front, a study just published in the prominent journal Cell suggests a major advance in creating a non-addictive variety of opioid painkiller.

Such a drug could be invaluable because it could allow doctors to prescribe powerful opioids without the risk of the patient developing a chemical dependency.

Opioid drugs work by binding to a kappa-opioid receptor, which mitigates pain. However, they also bind to other receptors that trigger a potentially addictive flood of dopamine in the brain.

The authors of the study were able to create a chemical that bound to the kappa-opioid receptor without attaching to the other receptors.

However, the study involved 3-D modeling of the nervous system, and the chemical hasn’t yet been tested on humans or animals.

Sources: CNBC, Inverse.com. Click here to read more about implantable painkillers. Click here to read more about non-addictive opioids.