Scientists are now designing and developing safe and effective substitute painkillers that could serve as alternatives to opioid. It is reported that more than 60,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the U.S. in 2016. With the possible development of the non-addictive opioid alternatives, it might end the worldwide opioid addiction crisis that led to the death of many people.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Cell. The study was led by the researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to Futurity.
Bryan Roth, the co-author of the study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that numerous people are dying each year in the U.S. because of opioid overdoses. He further said that more than 50,000 people died in 2016 and described it as a terrible crisis.
In the new study, the scientists examined a receptor protein known as the kappa opioid receptor. This protein could interact with opioids in the brain. It also binds to a molecule related to morphine. This is the first time the researchers discovered the structure of this protein, in which it interacts with a drug.
The scientists explained that knowing and understanding the structure of this protein and how it could interact with the opioids could help them develop drugs that only bind to that certain protein. This could lead to safer and effective painkillers. Although the protein could produce side effects like hallucinations or feelings of unease when it interacts with drugs, the scientists said that they could design and develop drugs that could only cause a pain-relieving effect, according to The Guardian.
They also stated that the kappa opioid receptor could not trigger problems such as constipation, addiction risk, and death caused by overdose. The scientists investigated the structures of different molecules that interact with the kappa opioid receptor and how the molecules interact with the receptors. They also tested them in cell structures.
Roth said that they basically solved the structure and then they could make the medications that have the signaling properties they desired. He further said that it might take some years before these drugs could be available to those who need them.