New Heroin Addiction Treament Might Replace Methadone By 'Blocking' Addiction In The Body

By Mo Mozuch on August 15, 2012 7:00 PM EDT

photo: Reuters
photo: Reuters

A team of researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of Colorado has discovered a way to block mechanisms in the body that are receptive to morphine and heroin addiction. The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, have profound implications for heroin addicts worldwide.  The scientists studied the effects of the drug (+)-naloxone and discovered it can selectively block the immune-addiction response. It could possibly replace methadone as a treatment, or be used to supplement existing programs, but more research is needed. They also noticed that in addition to blocking heroin addiction the drug provides a certain degree of pain relief, potentially leading to a new type of painkiller.

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"The drug (+)-naloxone automatically shuts down the addiction. It shuts down the need to take opioids, it cuts out behaviors associated with addiction, and the neurochemistry in the brain changes - dopamine, which is the chemical important for providing that sense of 'reward' from the drug, is no longer produced," Dr. Mark Hutchinson, lead author of the study, said in a statement on the University of Adelaide's website. "Our studies have shown conclusively that we can block addiction via the immune system of the brain, without targeting the brain's wiring. Both the central nervous system and the immune system play important roles in creating addiction, but our studies have shown we only need to block the immune response in the brain to prevent cravings for opioid drugs."

An immune receptor called TLR4 proved to be the key to the new treatment. Heroin binds to TLR4 in a manner that simulates the immune response to bacteria. The presence of the heroin in TLR4 then acts as an "amplifier" for addiction. Professor Linda Watkins, a co-author of the study, said in the release that "this work fundamentally changes what we understand about opioids, reward and addiction. We've suspected for some years that TLR4 may be the key to blocking opioid addiction, but now we have the proof."

The next step for the treatment is clinical trials, which could take up to 18 months. After that, the researchers hope it can lead to the development of a new type of morphine-based painkiller.

"The drug that we've used to block addiction, (+)-naloxone, is a non-opioid mirror image drug that was created by Dr. Kenner Rice in the 1970s. We believe this will prove extremely useful as a co-formulated drug with morphine, so that patients who require relief for severe pain will not become addicted but still receive pain relief. This has the potential to lead to major advances in patient and palliative care," Watkins said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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