As the United States continues to struggle with a rising number of opioid addicts who were previously prescribed powerful painkillers due to a variety of ailments, the medical community is stuck between a rock and a hard place. As pain medication, opioids are incredibly potent, but they’re also highly addictive, and alternatives are hard to come by.
Now, researchers in France believe they may have come up with something that will help. It’s a new kind of “nano-drug” painkiller that actually replicates some of the action of opioid-based drugs like morphine but offers relief with less potential for abuse and overuse.
As the team explains in a new paper published in Science Advances, development of the medication was based on compounds that bind to the same receptors as opioids do. Much of the work in this area has proven fruitless due to the difficulty of developing a drug that is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, so the team tried a different approach.
Rather than focusing on the brain, the researchers instead developed their drug to target the localized area that is causing discomfort. The new drug was tested on mice who had pain in their paws, and it proved not only effective but it also seemed to last longer than the opioid-based alternative.
By targeting the peripheral nervous system for pain relief rather than the brain, the drug could eliminate pain while also being far less addictive than many modern painkillers. It would be applied directly to the areas that hurt, instead of popping a pill that offers a whole-body numbing and the “high” that is often associated with such drugs.
The researchers say that additional work needs to be done before they can actually test the drug on humans, but it appears promising.