In an attempt to mitigate the opioid epidemic, the state of Ohio is giving a three million dollar grant to a pharmaceutical company called Elysium Therapeutics, in order to allow them to develop a prescription pain medication that can’t be abused. This is part of a larger $20 million program intended to address the opioid overdose problems in the state. In 2016, Ohio had 4,050 overdose deaths, which was an increase of 1,000 from the previous year. The state also ranked second for the state with the most opioid overdose deaths in 2016. Newly released figures indicate that overdose deaths increased by over 30 percent in 2017.
Many people who die from opioid overdoses started out using prescription painkillers. These medications, which include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine, are effective painkillers and relatively safe when taken for a short time, but they can easily become addictive. Doctors prescribe opioids for a variety of conditions, including both acute and chronic pain. Acute pain is pain that appears after surgery or a broken bone, and in these cases the prescription should only be needed for only a few days. Unfortunately, many doctors prescribe enough for a week or more, despite evidence that five days of opioid use is enough to cause dependence. Opioids can also be prescribed long term for severe and/or chronic pain, or pain that has persisted for at least three months due to arthritis or nerve conditions.
Elysium Therapeutics intends to lessen the number of overdoses by first lessening the number of people taking addictive opioid painkillers. They plan to create a new class of opioids that are designed to be both more effective and not addictive, using something called XpiRx technology. XpiRx technology employs molecular deactivation, a process by which opioid drug products will safely and irreversibly lose their potency over a certain period of time. Beyond the prescribed period for use, the medication will become devoid of opioid agonist effects. Agonist opioids fully activate the opioid receptors in the brain, meaning that you get the full effects of the drug. If a drug cannot activate these receptors, it becomes completely resistant to abuse. The company plans to make both oral and non-oral medication options. The oral versions would come in immediate release and extended release versions that would be effective for both acute and chronic pain.
If opioids have no shelf life, there would no longer be a danger or either accidental or intentional overdose on leftover medications. There also wouldn’t be a market for selling them or giving them to friends for personal use.
Elysium Therapeutics currently has identified candidates for both clinical and non-clinical studies, and they believe their products may be commercially available as soon as 2021.
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