This anti-itch drug may help prevent opioid overuse

In a new study, researchers found that an anti-itch medication that targets a specific part of our nerve cells can make morphine—which targets a different part—more effective.

This means doctors may be able to prescribe lower doses of morphine by supplementing it with the drug, called nalfurafine, and still soothe their patients’ pain.

The research was conducted by a team at West Virginia University.

Morphine is a classic, widely used opioid. Using less of it could mean fewer morphine-related side effects—such as constipation and nausea—and a lower risk of addiction.

In the study, the team used animal models to test how well morphine treated pain on its own and in combination with nalfurafine.

They tested the drugs in different amounts to determine which relieved the most pain at the lowest dose. Then they compared each regimen’s effectiveness as a pain reliever.

The team found that using a small supplement of nalfurafine alongside a lower dose of morphine reduced pain as dramatically as using a large dose of morphine alone.

They say that right now there’s a lot of work looking for replacements for opioids.

Maybe nalfurafine is not so great as a replacement on its own, but maybe it does enough that we could put it together with other opioids and get this dose-sparing effect.

It’s possible that doctors just need a tiny smidgen of nalfurafine with a smidgen of this other addictive drug to get the equivalent pain relief from a larger dose of the addictive drug.

If future studies—including eventual clinical trials—affirm the results, then doctors may be able to combat the opioid epidemic by prescribing nalfurafine as a supplemental painkiller.

The lead author of the study is researcher Shane Kaski.

The study is published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Copyright © 2019 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.