Stanford University logo A team of scientists have discovered that a common drug can be useful in breaking the dependence on opioid painkillers without the occurrence of any serious side effects. This revelation was made by the scientists of the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Opioid includes a huge range of illegal and addictive drugs like morphine, heroin and codeine. The ondansetron drug, used to treat vomiting and nausea, seems to be capable of preventing certain complications that occur with the present treatments for addiction to these strong and powerful painkillers. Opioid withdrawal can be illustrated by insomnia, agitation, diarrhea, vomiting, etc.

Study lead author, Larry F. Chu, MD, assistant professor of anesthesia, School of Medicine, says that, “Opioid abuse is rising at a faster rate than any other type of illicit drug use, yet only about a quarter of those dependent on opioids seek treatment. One barrier to treatment is that when you abruptly stop taking the drugs, there is a constellation of symptoms associated with withdrawal.”

Chu says that the present treatments are not entirely effective. Opioid withdrawal symptoms are in turn treated with other drugs like methadone and buprenorphine, which is just like switching from one drug to another.

The investigators began their study using mice, which are believed to develop similar addictions and withdrawal symptoms like humans. With the help of genetic mapping, the study investigators held one particular gene and brain receptor responsible for determining the intensity of opioid withdrawal symptoms. Following this discovery, the scientists had to uncover the drug that would block this particular receptor.

The investigators struck gold when they realized that the drug useful for this treatment was already FDA approved and was selling in the market for the treatment of nausea and vomiting. Thus they could immediately switch from a study on mice to a study directly on humans. The yielded results in human studies were similar to the results obtained from mice studies. It was noticed that the humans treated with the ondansetron drug before or while receiving morphine, displayed lesser withdrawal symptoms as compared to when they received morphine but not ondansetron.

The study investigators state that they aim to conduct a larger study on the topic, and hope to soon be able to use their findings in the treatment of drug addiction.

Their findings are published online in the Journal of Pharmacogenetics and Genomics.