Nausea Drug Shows Promise for Treating Opioid Withdrawal

New research from Stanford University suggests that a drug used to treat nausea may be effective in combating withdrawal from opioid drugs, U.S. News and World Report reported Feb. 20.

Researchers testing mice found that the drug ondansetron (Zofran) blocks certain 5-HT3 receptors involved in withdrawal. The researchers proceeded to test eight non-opioid-dependent human volunteers.

The subjects were given two doses of morphine, one with and one without ondansetron. The study showed that ondansetron reduced withdrawal symptoms without some of the side effects caused by current treatments for opiate addiction.

The “constellation of symptoms associated with withdrawal” can create a barrier to opiate treatment, said lead author Larry Chu. “What we need is a magic bullet, something that treats the symptoms of withdrawal, does not lead to addiction, and can be taken at home,” Chu said.

The researchers plan to continue testing ondansetron and to conduct a clinical study to investigate the effectiveness of an ondansetron-like drug in treating opioid addiction. “Treating the withdrawal component is only one way of alleviating the suffering,” said Dr. J. David Clark, principal investigator of the study. “With luck and determination, we can identify additional targets and put together a comprehensive treatment program.”

The study appeared in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Pharmacogenetics and Genomics

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