As discussed in part one of this series, alternatives to opioids outside the realm of traditional medication regimens are already available. Refresh your memory about those topics here, and ask a doctor about how they might be able to help you.
On the other side of the medical coin, there are prescription drugs in development right now that could provide safer pain relief with fewer side effects. Pharmaceutical companies, responding to the opioid crisis, are on track to offer new, federally approved possibilities.
The following are a few drugs to keep on your radar. Someday soon they may serve the approximately 100 million Americans suffering from chronic pain.
- Synthetic capsaicin. Capsaicin may sound familiar because it is the active ingredient in chili peppers that makes them spicy. It is also is known to contain pain relieving properties, particularly well-suited for localized trauma. Drugmaker Centrexion Therapeutics Corp. has already demonstrated in early trials that the capsaicin formula can reduce pain at the injection site (without significant loss of sensation around the nerve) for up to six months.
- Nerve-growth-factor inhibitors (tanezumab). This therapy is designed mainly for people coping with pain from arthritis. Pfizer Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co. have been working to tweak this treatment so that it “blocks pain signals in nerve cells beyond the brain, such as in skin and muscle” but doesn’t work so well that “patients overuse the affected joint.”
- Nav 1.7 sodium ion channel modulation (GDC-0310). Genentech and Amgen Inc. are taking an approach that sounds like science fiction. An extremely rare genetic mutation that prevents (an extremely small number of) people from feeling pain could be harnessed into an oral pain relief medication. Scientists have identified the Nav 1.7 sodium ion channel as a key pathway associated with pain and believe that modifying this pathway could lead to pain alleviation, especially in the lower back.
- Cannabinoid Receptors. This solution is a more synthetic attempt to offer the same analgesic effects found in medicinal marijuana. Cara Therapeutics Inc. and Centrexion are developing “experimental drugs that target the cannabinoid receptors,” but deliver the active ingredient in the form of a pill.
- Cone snails. In what might be the most outlandish and most creative idea in the works at the moment, “scientists at Hunter College in New York are working to make an intravenous painkiller based on a toxin found in cone snails.”
Modifications that would make current opioid-based treatments safer are gaining traction, too.
- “Researchers at Tulane University and Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System have developed a painkiller that is as strong as morphine but isn’t likely to be addictive and with fewer side effects, according to a new study in the journal Neuropharmacology.” Clinical trials on humans could begin within the next year.
- Trevena Inc. is researching an opioid for hospital-use that does not slow down a patient’s breathing dramatically the way typical opioids do.
- The Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has demonstrated the feasibility of a non-addictive, non-respiratory and cardiovascular-system-inhibiting opioid that alleviated the pain of at least a dozen monkeys in a clinical trial.
- A team of scientists whose findings were published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science claims to have developed “a pain killer without side effects.” The drug is a modified type of fentanyl called NFEPP. It capitalizes off the reduced pH level in damaged tissue and only targets the affected area. Read a user-friendly summary of the study here.
Overall, we’re seeing a trend of more medical professionals and organizations acknowledging the limitations and dangers of opioids for pain relief.
A doctor from Howard County General Hospital, part of Johns Hopkins Medical, put it this way: “Pain specialists have long had the feeling that comprehensive care is the best care. The more you can offer the patient to treat their pain, the less likely the patient will become addicted to opioids.”
As you continue to research your own healthcare and your loved ones’, consider reading more about organizations like these — Trinity Health of Livonia, Michigan, Pacira Pharmaceuticals, The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center — and keeping your eye out for others that are working towards safer, non-addictive, more sustainable pain relief.