Opioids, like oxycodone, are drugs often used to manage pain but come with the heavy risk of addiction.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States in 2021.
When people try to quit opioids, they go through a tough time known as withdrawal, which brings a whole set of nasty symptoms like throwing up, chills, anxiety, and bad sleep.
The Experiment: Could Sleep Help?
A team of researchers at Scripps Research conducted an experiment to see if helping rats sleep better could keep them away from opioids in the future.
They used an experimental sleep-aid drug called DORA-12. This drug is similar to an FDA-approved sleep medicine known as Belsomra.
Here’s the idea behind the study: when people or animals are going through withdrawal, they feel miserable. Poor sleep only adds to this misery, making them crave the drug even more to feel better.
So, if you can make them sleep better during withdrawal, maybe they won’t crave the drug as much when they wake up.
Researchers had already found in an earlier study that rats given Belsomra took less oxycodone, another opioid drug. This time, they wanted to focus more on what happens when the rats are in withdrawal.
What Did the Study Find?
The results were promising. Rats in withdrawal who were given DORA-12 slept much better.
When these rats were later exposed to things that reminded them of oxycodone, they didn’t seem interested. Even signs of addiction in their brains seemed to reverse.
Remarkably, the positive effects stuck around even when the rats had stopped taking DORA-12 for a few days. This suggests that better sleep during withdrawal could have long-lasting benefits in preventing a relapse.
However, it’s important to note that the drug seemed to work slightly differently in male and female rats. The females didn’t respond quite as well, leading researchers to wonder if different doses might be needed for men and women.
So, What’s Next?
“These results are very encouraging,” says Rémi Martin-Fardon, Ph.D., the senior author of the study. “We hope this compound may be useful for not only treating sleep disorders but also drug use disorders.”
More studies are needed to understand how well sleep-aid drugs like DORA-12 could help people who are fighting opioid addiction.
There are already ongoing studies looking into the use of sleep medications for treating alcohol addiction. So, it’s an exciting time to see if improving sleep can also help solve other serious health crises.
All in all, the study suggests that a good night’s sleep might not just make you feel better in the morning—it might also help you stay away from opioids, offering a new angle in the fight against drug addiction.
If you care about opioids and pain, please read studies about what to ask your doctor before taking opioids and findings of opioid use in older people with dementia is linked to higher death risk.
The research findings can be found in Neuropharmacology.
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