Coping with pain of any type can be difficult. Whether it’s pain from cancer treatments, chronic pain, or pain from a surgery, it can disrupt a person’s life by making it difficult to sleep. It can even cause bouts of depression. When this kind of chronic pain is present, many people reach for painkillers.
How Do Painkillers Work?
Painkillers are a quick and simple fix. By targeting the orthosteric site of the opioid receptor and blocking pain signals, they provide great relief. Their effectiveness is why many doctors consider them to be a standard part of pain management. Unfortunately, they are also the cause of unwanted side effects, like addiction.
Negatives of Consistent Painkiller Use
Consistent use of painkillers can easily lead to a prescription drug addiction. Over time, the body builds up a tolerance to painkillers, which requires higher doses of them for them to continue being effective. While the majority of people who take these drugs will not become addicted, thousands of people do develop an addiction to them. Doctors also sometimes hesitate to prescribe them because of the risk of addiction, even when they are needed.
What Is Being Done
The drug abuse crisis and resurgence in heroin use has prompted scientists to explore the possibility of an addiction-proof painkiller. The search for safer painkillers that work just as well as drugs such as morphine and Vicodin has begun. The research so far has been promising. Scientists are closing in on medications that would relieve pain without the risk of addiction.
Cara Therapeutics has released research showing that the opioid drug in development is far less likely to cause a high feeling providing a lower risk of addiction. Their drug works on different nerve receptors than the current painkiller. It does not enter the brain and does not cause negative side effects such as nausea or respiratory depression.
The University of Michigan Health System and Bristol-Meyers Squibb Company have also been exploring a new way to treat pain. For the first time, they have found alternative sites for compounds to bind to. This has the potential to enhance the medication’s positive impact without an increase of the negative side effects. Identifying these alternative sites is a key step toward developing pain treatment that would achieve the same effect with a lower dose. The compounds would bind to a receptor that fine-tunes the receptor’s activity, enhancing the effects of morphine. It could also potentially work with the body’s own mechanism for managing pain.
So while there is currently no addiction-proof painkiller medication available, scientists have made several advances, raising hopes for addicts who are looking to treat pain without the fear of becoming addicted.