The addiction epidemic in America is still raging, with a record 72,000 overdose deaths according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control for 2017. The pharmaceutical industry has been slow to respond to the numbers. However, the increased scrutiny has made the industry do a double-take regarding profitability. With lawsuits stemming from nearly every state in the US, profits for opioids seem to be on a steady decline. And with the decrease in prescribing, doctors have worried that legitimate chronic pain patients will be left without treatment. New research is now in progress to find new pain drugs that prevent chronically ill people from being neglected or left behind due to opioid unavailability.
Multiple research groups have been tasked with the creation of less dangerous and less addictive opioid development. While they also are focusing on changing the opioids to make them less harmful, they are also looking at opioid alternatives. This is important to note because historically, Big Pharma has downplayed the addictive nature of opioids, and there is little trust in the medical community when it comes to “safer opioids” at this point. Pharmaceutical companies have appeared to defend addictive drugs at every turn, from lobbying to paying doctors to dole them out like candy. Many experts in the addiction industry would say that there’s no trusting the industry to police itself. However, pain is a real problem for many diseases, and for some people, currently, only opioids can help. Researchers are attempting to create an opiate that can offer pain relief with far less risk of addiction or overdose, which is caused by decreased respiration.
The substances tested have only entered the basic stages of research, where they are tested on animals, not humans. But researchers are hopeful.”It’s encouraging,” says Laura Bohn, a biochemist at Scripps Research in Jupiter, Florida. “There has been a really big push to develop nonopioid pain relievers. But it has been really hard.”
Let’s hope the focus on non-opioid pain relief is successful.