New DNA Test Can Identify People Predisposed To Opioid Addiction

Donna Brown

A biotech company says it has a new DNA test that can identify patients who are genetically predisposed to opioid addiction. The company is Proove Bioscience in Irvine, California. They've developed a DNA test that accesses samples via cheek-swab, then compares the data from the results to a the patient's answers on a questionnaire. The results, Proove says, will identify the patients' risk of become addicted to the opioids prescribed to them, according to CBS News.

Opioid addiction has grown to epidemic proportions. Nearly 2 million people were addicted to pain medication in 2014. Nearly 19,000 people died from overdoses of narcotic pain medications, says the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, sent a letter to 2.3 million healthcare providers outlining the problem and soliciting their help in gaining control over the problem. More people are dying from drug overdoses than ever before and 60 percent of those deaths are from opioids. Due to accidents, injuries and serious illnesses, there are times when the prescription of opioid pain medications are required. Unfortunately, however, physicians are unable to determine which of their patients are more at risk for addiction. The patients have no way of knowing whether they themselves are genetically predisposed to addiction.

"This is so important to me. This is the meaning of the rest of my life."
"You're already at high risk to begin with, which means you can go down the wrong pathway very quickly."
"We can imagine a day where a doctor will prescribe a medication actually knowing whether a patient is going to respond or not, rather than just guessing."

James, 31, is a patient struggling with opioid dependence who is now in the throes of withdrawal symptoms. "Right this minute I'm detoxing like hell," he said. On top of extreme fatigue while unable to sleep, he's suffering from aching, weakened muscles. These are but a few of the awful symptoms of withdrawal, says the Daily Beast.

James's problems began quite innocently, at the age of 13. He was run over by a city bus in Cleveland, Ohio. For nearly a week, doctors pumped him full of morphine to help ease his excruciating pain. That's all it took, he said. All these years later, James is still addicted to painkillers. He's on disability, and struggling.

"I've tried like hell to get help or quit by myself but I just keep falling back in."

What complicates the issue further is the fact that some patients might have a family history of addiction or other factors that would leave them vulnerable and still not develop any type of dependence on opioids. Twin studies have shown that genetics only account for about half the risk, and the rest is environment. Each case is so individual that it's hard to make the determination. Proove is hoping their testing will make all the difference in such patients.

The Proove Opioid Risk is a test that doctors give to patients the combines their genetic profile with other findings the physician observes while assessing and interviewing the patient. Meshkin says the patient is asked six questions that have been found to be highly predictive of future opioid addiction. One of those factors is a personal history of substance abuse or a diagnosis of depression. A DNA sample is collected from a cheek swab, and the DNA is then sent to Proove where 12 different gene variants are analyzed. All 12 are part of the brain's mesolimbic system, the pathway of the brain associated with addiction. Physicians often refer to it as the "reward circuit" because it is activated when behaviors like taking drugs are present. Meshkin explains.

"All of this information is combined in our software. The algorithm then provides a report to the doctor classifying a patient as low risk, moderate risk or high risk."

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