How a Weight Loss Drug May Help Fight Opioid Addiction

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Doctor Holding PillsThe United States is in the midst of an opiate crisis, as millions of Americans struggle to break free from their chemical dependency on opioids. The CDC estimates that fatal overdoses from prescription opioid use have quadrupled since 1999, a statistic that reveals just how real this epidemic is.

As doctors and public health officials work to find an answer to the nationwide crisis, researchers may have discovered an antidote to opioid addiction—in the form of a diet pill.

Opiates 101

Opioids are a class of drugs designed to reduce pain, and are prescribed to treat a range of complaints. Common opioids include:

  • Vicodin
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl

Opioids are highly addictive, and in many cases, addiction stems from people receiving a prescription for pain medicine. Opioids bind to receptors in the brain to block the body’s pain signals, while also producing feelings of euphoria, relaxation and reduced anxiety. Regular opiate use can create a tolerance to the medication, which means that more of the drug is needed to produce the same effects.

Researchers are working hard to end opioid chemical dependency.

Opioids Hijack Brain Chemistry

Part of what makes opioids so addictive is that someone who takes the medication regularly will stop producing their own endorphins, a neurochemical that makes the body feel good and promotes feelings of euphoria. Once you stop taking opioids after prolonged use, withdrawal can be both physically and emotionally painful, which causes many to relapse.

Knowing that the weight loss drug lorcaserin had been shown to reduce cravings for nicotine and cocaine, researchers administered it to rats who were self-administering oxycodone. In a promising sign, the rats who were given lorcaserin were less likely to self-administer oxycodone or exhibit drug-seeking behavior. This finding may spell good news in the efforts to fight opioid addiction.