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HomeNewsPromising Results of Anti-Obesity Drug in Reducing Opioid Cravings: Small Study

Promising Results of Anti-Obesity Drug in Reducing Opioid Cravings: Small Study


In a recent presentation in Denver, a small-scale analysis revealed promising results regarding the effectiveness of the GLP-1 medication liraglutide in reducing opioid cravings. This groundbreaking study, the first of its kind to investigate the use of anti-obesity drugs in addressing opioid addiction, sheds light on potential new treatment avenues for a condition that claims around 80,000 lives in the U.S. each year.


Promising Results of Liraglutide Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder


Data unveiled at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference showcased promising results among 20 patients grappling with opioid use disorder. Those receiving liraglutide treatment saw a substantial 40% decrease in opioid cravings throughout the three-week trial period. Remarkably, this positive outcome was evident even with the administration of the lowest liraglutide dosage.


Patients who were already using buprenorphine, an FDA-approved medication for managing opioid use disorder, showed a higher likelihood of reporting no cravings if they were also taking liraglutide compared to those in the control group. This difference became statistically significant starting from the tenth day of the study, as patients were gradually administered higher doses of liraglutide. Andrew Saxon, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Washington not affiliated with the study, suggested that there might be a synergistic effect of these two medications, possibly due to their distinct mechanisms of action.


In general, the study found that liraglutide, a GLP-1 drug, exhibited a similar safety profile to placebo among patients with opioid use disorder. This suggests promising prospects for liraglutide as a potential treatment option in this population. However, it's noteworthy that gastrointestinal distress was twice as common in the liraglutide group, which could be a significant factor to consider in clinical practice. Despite this, the study underscores the importance of further research to fully understand the efficacy and safety of liraglutide in managing opioid addiction.


GLP-1 Treatment for Opioid Addiction: Results and Challenges


In a notable development, Scott Bunce, a clinical psychologist and key investigator in the trial at Penn State, highlighted that patients receiving both liraglutide and buprenorphine reported lower gastrointestinal distress and dropout rates compared to those solely on liraglutide. This suggests a promising combined approach to mitigate adverse effects. Additionally, the significant reduction in cravings even at the lowest liraglutide dose hints at the potential for managing side effects with lower dosages, warranting further investigation.


The research was carried out at the Caron Treatment Center in Wernersville, PA, and was financially supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a philanthropic family, and Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical firm that markets liraglutide under the brand names Victoza and Saxenda. All study participants were residents undergoing medication-assisted withdrawal. Around 80% of the participants were Caucasian males. Additionally, each participant received four daily notifications on their smartphones to track self-reported cravings.


This clinical trial signifies the culmination of extensive research spanning seven years within Grigson's laboratory, showcasing the effectiveness of GLP-1s in addressing three pivotal pathways contributing to relapse: environmental triggers, stress, and the drug itself. Despite the FDA's endorsement of three medications for treating opioid addiction, recent data reveals that merely 20% of patients were prescribed these medications in 2021.


These drugs are facing challenges in widespread adoption due to their low uptake rates and significant relapse rates, especially among patients with a history of fentanyl use. Furthermore, drugs like buprenorphine and methadone are often stigmatized for being perceived as substituting one opioid for another. Grigson and Bunce suggest that GLP-1s could offer a promising alternative or adjunct to existing treatments for opioid addiction.


Navigating GLP-1 Treatment Research: Considerations and Future Directions


Approaching these initial findings requires caution, considering factors like the small sample size, lack of participant diversity, and the trial's short duration, as highlighted by neuropharmacologist Heath Schmidt from the University of Pennsylvania. Moreover, studying individuals in controlled residential environments may not accurately reflect real-world scenarios, where various environmental triggers can impact relapse differently.


Additionally, individuals in treatment facilities may be more motivated to recover, potentially affecting treatment outcomes. Despite these considerations, the notable dropout rate remains a significant challenge in applying GLP-1s for treating drug addiction.


Despite some limitations, both Christian Hendershot, a psychologist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in GLP-1s for alcohol use disorder, and Grigson and Bunce, stress the initial nature of their findings and emphasize the importance of further investigation. Hendershot highlights the significance of the data as a crucial step for larger trials, noting the controlled environment's contribution to its validity. Meanwhile, Grigson and Bunce are preparing for a randomized controlled trial involving 200 participants receiving methadone or buprenorphine, with half given semaglutide and the other half a placebo, across three outpatient facilities located in Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland.


With one person succumbing to opioid-related fatalities every five minutes, the urgency to find effective treatments for opioid use disorder becomes increasingly apparent. As this global crisis continues to claim lives, the hope for a new treatment option shines brightly, offering a beacon of promise amidst the darkness of addiction and overdose.

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