Scientists Develop Non-Addictive Synthetic Opiate PZM21
Sometimes over-the-counter pain killers just don’t quite cut it. But a lot of people don’t want to take opiate-based pain meds either. Maybe they have a personal or family history of addiction; or maybe they just don’t like the side effects. Well scientists have designed a synthetic opiate in a lab that is just about as strong as morphine but doesn’t have any of the addictive or negative side effects of a typical opiate. Oh, and it might even last longer, too!
It’s called PZM21. And when scientists conducted lab tests on mice, they discovered it didn’t seem to have any of the addictive side effects normally associated with opiate pain killers. After mice have been exposed to morphine, they typically get hyperactive and try to seek out more of the drug– just like humans! But when the mice were exposed to PZM21, scientists noticed the mice acted pretty normal and didn’t care to seek out the drug again.
It’s actually pretty crazy how the team at Stanford University came across this cool new drug. The goal was to find a chemical compound that could fit into the brain’s opiate receptors– like an opiate impersonator. They did this by using a computer to scan over 3 million different compounds. After they found the top 2,500 candidates the team had to go through each one manually; gradually narrowing the best compounds down bit by bit. They finally decided on 23 to test in the lab. Eventually they found the best compound–tweaked it a bit– and now we have PZM 21.
So PZM21 doesn’t appear to be addictive and it causes less constipation! But it isn’t quite perfect: it still suppresses breathing. Which is how you die from an opiate overdose. The scientists noticed that the more PZM21 the mice were given, the worse their breathing got– just like with a normal opiate. However in most opiates, lung capacity doesn’t go back to normal right away when the physical effects of the drug start to diminish. In PZM21, scientists noticed that the mice regained their breathing ability in their tiny little mouse lungs as the physical effects wore off. So with PZM21, patients can regain breathing ability quicker than with other opiates.
So the drug still needs to be tweaked a bit; and it won’t be hitting the market anytime soon. But its discovery is a huge step for combating opiate addiction and deaths. In 2014, prescription opiates caused over 14,000 deaths and sent over 1,000 Americans to the emergency room every day.