A team of scientists at the University of Michigan say they have identified a new approach to pain therapy that could lead to lower-dose painkillers, which may reduce the risk of dependence.
Patients taking common painkillers such as hydrocodone or morphine tend to develop a tolerance for the medications, which leads them to take higher doses for pain relief. This increases the risk of harmful side effects and dependency, HealthCanal reports.
Opioid painkillers used for moderate to severe pain bind to receptors on nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to prevent pain. “We have for the first time discovered compounds that bind to an alternative site on the nerve opioid receptors and that have significant potential to enhance the drug’s positive impact without increasing negative side effects,” researcher John Traynor, PhD, said in a news release. The compounds potentially could work with the body’s own natural painkillers to manage pain, he stated.
He noted the research is still in the early stages. “This opens the door to developing pain relief medications that require lower doses to be effective, helping address the serious issues of tolerance and dependence that we see with conventional pain therapy,” he added.
The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.