Scientists are testing a new painkiller that is as strong as morphine but isn’t likely to be addictive and with fewer side effects.
Using rats, scientists compared several engineered variants of the neurochemical endomorphin, which is found naturally in the body, to morphine to measure their effectiveness and side effects. The peptide-based drugs target the same pain-relieving opioid receptor as morphine.
Opium-based drugs are the leading treatments for severe and chronic pain, but they can be highly addictive. Their abuse results in thousands of overdose deaths in the United States annually. They can cause motor impairment and potentially fatal respiratory depression. Patients also build up tolerance over time, increasing the risk for abuse and overdose.