A drug that scientists originally developed to treat depression may have promise for the treatment of opioid withdrawal, researchers say.
Opioid withdrawal is a challenging experience, and although there are medications already on the market that can help curb the symptoms of withdrawal, these drugs cause negative side effects.
Current withdrawal medications also often require people to take them for a prolonged period, which is not ideal and could lead to a relapse.
There may be encouraging news on the horizon, however. New research highlights the possible benefits of an experimental drug called rapastinel, which scientists initially created to help those with major depressive disorder.
This new research showed that rats responded positively to rapastinel in opioid withdrawal studies. The researchers noted that rapastinel had a significant effect on withdrawal in just a few days, which could make it a candidate for future testing in human participants in a clinical setting.
The first few days after halting opioid use can be very difficult because the withdrawal symptoms can be exceptionally severe. This stage is when rapastinel could potentially be useful, as it may help ease those symptoms without the additional burden of side effects. It could also reduce the need for prescription drugs that require long-term use for a person to avoid relapse.
“We have found that rapastinel has potential as a new treatment for opioid dependence, as it is effective in reducing withdrawal signs and has not been shown to produce any negative side effects,” notes Julia Ferrante, an undergraduate at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
Ferrante conducted the research with Cynthia M. Kuhn, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University in Durham, NC. The findings featured at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting, which took place recently during the Experimental Biology 2019 meeting in Orlando, FL.