Are New “Non-Addictive” Opioids Safe?
In the US alone, 130 people die from an opioid overdose every day – many of whom became addicted after being prescribed a painkiller by their doctor. Due to opioids being incredibly effective at treating chronic pain and other ailments, they were prescribed frequently in the past decade without a proper understanding of just how addictive and dangerous they could become. Now with an opioid epidemic plaguing the United States, the pharmaceutical industry has begun damage control by attempting to create new, safer opioids.
While opioid use in the short term can be safe, the biggest danger they present is their highly addictive nature which leads to abuse and eventually addiction in some people. This is a problem because once addicted, the body craves opioids until it enters withdrawal. This leads many seeking out drugs from third parties – often with questionable origins – putting them in danger when the drug isn’t what they say it is.
To help prevent addiction from forming, drug manufacturers are creating opioids that claim to be non-addictive which can both help those suffering with an addiction already and prevent opioid users from becoming addicted in the first place. However, whether they prove to be a safe and effective alternative to opioids is yet to be proven. In fact, many of the same opioids that are fueling the epidemic in the United States were believed to be much less addictive than they are, so it’s right to be skeptical.
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What Makes Opioids So Addictive?
Just like addiction to anything else – drinking, skydiving, gambling, and more – opioid addiction starts in the brain. Taking codeine, morphine, heroin, fentanyl, and other opiates activates the reward center in your brain, releasing a rush of dopamine – the “feel good” endorphin – into your brain that reduces pain and induces a kind of euphoric state. Obviously for those who are suffering from extreme pain, this is a breath of fresh air – but it doesn’t come without consequences.
Due to the rush of dopamine your brain is experiencing, over time it begins to regulate its own production of dopamine and other endorphins because it is expecting the opioids to provide them. When you stop providing the extra endorphin release through taking the opioid, however, your brain isn’t able to react quickly enough to maintain the necessary levels. This leads to withdrawal occurring while your brain regulates its endorphin levels again – which leads to a week or two of extreme discomfort.
How Do Non-Addictive Opioids Aim to Prevent Addiction?
In order to prevent addiction from forming, the newest generation of opioids is aiming to be non-addictive by isolating the receptors of the brain that they affect to only provide the pain relief without the addictive qualities. One of these promising discoveries is the compound AT-121, which directly targets two specific brain receptors to provide relief without the same consequences.
AT-121 activates the “mu” opioid receptor – responsible for providing pain relief – in the same way that morphine does, but at 1/100th of the dose. It also targets the “nociception” receptor, which blocks addictive effects on the brain and the development of tolerance to opioids. It can help to treat withdrawals in the same way buprenorphine is used in rehabs during detoxification.
Together, these two receptors are expected to be able to provide non-addictive relief for those suffering from chronic pain and help reduce the effects of withdrawals in those who are currently addicted. However, it has not been tested on humans yet despite promising results on primates.
Dangers of New “Non-Addictive Opioids” Hitting the Market
There are already plenty of opioids on the market that come in a variety of forms and doses for various specific uses. While the new generation of opioids that aim to be less addictive provide similar health risks to regular opioids, the danger they bring is uncertainty in non-medical environments.
Dsuvia (sufentanil) – a new generation opioid approved by the FDA in 2018 – is a sublingual tablet that goes under your tongue when taken. It was made for use in hospitals in the case that a patient cannot swallow or receive opioids through an IV. However, despite only being intended for use in medical settings, it is possible that it could find its way to the streets where its incredible potency could further the opioid epidemic. Sufentanil is 10 times more potent than fentanyl – the leading cause of overdose death in the US as of 2016 – which makes it incredibly easy for even a small amount to be taken unknowingly, leading to overdose and death.
When it comes to the safety of prescription drugs, almost every drug can be safe to use when taken responsibly and monitored by a medical professional. The new opioids that are being released into the market are safe for their intended uses – such as in hospitals or medical facilities – but the second they leave these controlled environments is when they become more dangerous. This is especially true for unsuspecting users who don’t expect the potency some “non-addictive” opioids contain, which can lead to accidental overdose.
Opioid Rehabilitation Facilities: The Best Way to Kick Your Addiction
While non-addictive opioids would be incredibly helpful for treating current addictions (and preventing new ones from forming), a pill alone is not enough to address the complex and life-threatening problem of opioid addiction. When it comes to kicking your addiction, professional rehabilitation services with an emphasis on personalized, holistic care can greatly improve the effectiveness of recovery.
At Ocean Hills Recovery, we’re committed to providing a safe and relaxing environment to help you on the path to sobriety. We’re with you throughout the entire rehabilitation process, including detoxification, therapy and other holistic treatment. There are also other ongoing treatment services to help you stay clean after you leave. Our programs span from 30 days to 90 days of inpatient services in a beautiful facility to give you a peaceful environment so you can focus on your recovery. Our expert staff will work to make you happy, comfortable, and healthy during your stay.
If you’re ready to kick an addiction, give us a call today to schedule a consultation with one of our counselors.
About the author:
Greg opened his home and heart to alcoholics and addicts in 2003. He is a Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATC). Starting in 2009 Greg has fostered the growth of Ocean Hills Recovery into one of the most respected and effective treatment centers in the area and has been working with people with addictions since March of 2001. Greg believes in a holistic approach to recovery. His focus is on drug alcohol addiction treatment with a combination of 12 Step work, therapy and counseling, and the rejuvenation of the body through healthful eating and exercise. He has designed his program to foster a family-like atmosphere and believes that people in recovery are just beginning their lives. He encourages the people he works with to learn to enjoy life in sobriety. Greg is married to Nicole; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.