The opioid crisis was recently labeled a national health emergency. More than 240,000 people have died between 1999 and 2017. About 65,094 have died in the last year alone. As opioid overdose rates continue to rise higher than they’ve ever been, experts in science and medicine are scrambling to find a solution that will effectively turn the tide of the opioid crisis. Thankfully, one team of scientists in London may have found one. This team developed a nasal spray that relieves pain without the risk of opioid dependence or potential overdose in patients.
The Study at University College London
Scientists and researchers at University College London have been looking for ways to efficiently fight the opioid crisis. So far, their findings have been very promising. The medical industry has always seen potential in using natural opioids over synthetic ones, and the UCL research team has found that natural opioids could alleviate pain in the form of a nasal spray.
The Downside of Synthetic Opioids for Pain Relief
Pain management patients who use traditional synthetic opioids usually take them in the form of pills. The problem with opioid pills is that ingesting them is the only route of administration. This means that the opioids have to reach the brain by entering the bloodstream and the nervous system first. So, the chemicals can affect other organs before reaching the brain. This is partially why prescription opioid users tend to experience different side effects like drowsiness, constipation, or nausea. Additionally, opioids may lose strength on their way from the gut to the brain’s receptors.
If the opioid is delivered via injection, they have a much more immediate effect. Several theories point to this as being a contributing factor to the development of tolerance. Tolerance, of course, is when a user increases the dosage or use of their medicine to achieve the same results as the initial dosage. However, an increase in user tolerance can lead to addiction. Chances of addiction development are especially high if the effects of opioid use turn from pain-relieving to pleasurable.
The Benefits of the UCL Pain Relief Nasal Spray
Unlike synthetic opioid medications, this painkiller spray— which made up of millions of naturally produced opioid nanoparticles— sends a mist straight to the brain through the nasal cavity. The main advantage of this route of administration is that pain relief is delivered straight to the source. In other words, the nasal spray doesn’t have to be ingested and absorbed into the bloodstream first.
Another advantage is that natural opioids leave little room for tolerance to develop. Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu, the pharmaceutical nanoscience expert and leader of UCL’s research in the Nanomerics lab, explained that natural opioids work in very much the same way as widely-used synthetic opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone. Th primary difference is that natural opioids have significantly lower risks of tolerance development.
The Results So Far
In the lab tests performed so far at UCL’s Nanomeric lab, animal subjects received the nasal spray compound in small to moderate doses. The response was positive: the subjects did not show any signs of developing tolerance. In fact, they didn’t even show signs of euphoria (i.e., the ‘pleasant high’). This means that the risk of developing a dependence— and subsequently, the dangers of overdose— are significantly lower. As Professor Uchegbu explained in an interview with The Guardian, “if people don’t develop tolerance… and if they don’t have to up the dose, they won’t get closer and closer to overdose.”
The main reason that most pharmaceuticals have not utilized natural opioids until now is that they break down in the body faster than synthetic opioids do. The liver typically filters out natural opioids before they have the chance to reach the brain for pain relief. However, a nasal spray would allow natural opioids to reach the brain without having to travel through the bloodstream first. In short, the UCL’s nasal spray painkiller is:
- faster-acting than pills or injections
- has a low risk for tolerance
- has almost no potential for abuse, addiction, or overdose
Further Testing with Potential Human Trials
After the success of their animal trials, the team of researchers at UCL are now fundraising for the first human clinical trials. In theory, the spray should be safe for human use. Further testing will determine if any side effects were not present in animal testing. Of course, the researchers will not subject their trial volunteers to actual pain. Instead, they will expose the subjects to ice-cold water after they receive a dose of the nasal spray to determine how well the natural opioids work against the sensation. The animal subjects underwent similar testing methods. If the initial human trials are successful, the research team will expand the nasal spray testing for patients with bone cancer to treat their sudden and severe bouts of pain.
Get Help for Opioid Addiction with TTC Outpatient Services
As the opioid crisis continues to worsen, it’s encouraging to see that the field of medical science is forging on with breakthroughs like UCL’s natural opioid nasal spray. The researchers hope that natural opioids in the form of nasal spray will become a widely available alternative that will slow, or perhaps end, the overdose epidemic. In the meantime, those who are currently struggling with an addiction to opioids are encouraged to seek treatment. If you or someone you know has developed a dependence on synthetic prescription opioids, please call The Treatment Center’s Outpatient Services at (844) 211-7944.