School of Medicine

St. Louis researchers study non-opioid painkiller

From KMOV 4

Families continue to be devastated by the opioid epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 63,000 Americans died because of a drug overdose in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of those deaths (66 percent) involved a prescription opioid or illegal opioid.

Now, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are studying a drug that may prevent patients from ever trying addictive painkillers like opioids.

That is incredibly encouraging to former addict and current recovery coach Kael Maness.

“I could say today I don’t have the desire to use,” said Maness.

But after a four and a half years clean, he still remembers how his opioid addiction started.

“I was prescribed liquid hydrocodone after a tonsillectomy and I just fell in love with it right away,” said Maness.

He says for more than a decade, he was high, mixing drugs and alcohol, in and out of jail, and in and out of rehab.

“The first one might be a choice but after that, it’s got you. Your brain tells you have to get this or you’re going to die,” said Maness. “It’s really expensive to buy opioid painkillers on the street so the quicker and more affordable option is heroin.”

Between his own experience and the experience of those he is helping as a recovery coach, he truly understands the power of painkillers. That’s why he is so interested in the work being done to understand a non-opioid painkiller at Washington University in St. Louis.

“This could be huge,” said Maness.

Inside the small lab on the medical campus of Washington University, D.P. Mohapatra, Ph.D., and his team have spent years analyzing a pain killer called EMA 401.

“Our scientific approach is if we understand how pain works or how pain is processed, we could possibly develop much better more effective drugs,” said Mohapatra.

Traditional opioids work by attaching to multiple receptors on nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. That creates the so-called blocking effect on the processing of pain perception in our brain and has a general calming effect. However, with higher doses of opioids, breathing and heart rate and slow, which can lead to death.

But Mohapatra explained the new type of drug instead targets immune cells at the site of nerve injury. So, it doesn’t travel through the spinal cord of brain. That is why more unwanted side effects, including drug addiction and influence on breathing associated with opioids, are absent with the new drug.

    Read more and watch at KMOV.