Scientists are working to come up with new therapies to curb America’s opioid epidemic and aid hospitals, doctors and public health officials in this fight. Now one team reports in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience that the commercial weight-loss drug lorcaserin, when given to rats who had been self-administering oxycodone, appeared to reduce their use of and craving for the opioid.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the number of deaths in the U.S. from prescription opioid overdoses has quadrupled since 1999 to the present day. Existing treatments to help people quit using the drugs typically work by blocking or competing for the receptors that opioids bind to, dampening their euphoric effects. But people who have tried these medications often relapse, particularly in environments they associate with past drug use. Kathryn A. Cunningham and colleagues wanted to see if lorcaserin could help prevent this effect. Previous preclinical studies suggested that the medicine can curb cocaine and nicotine cravings, even when tested in tempting environments.
The researchers administered lorcaserin to rats who had been taking oxycodone. These rats were subsequently less likely to take oxycodone and exhibit drug-seeking behaviors than the rats that didn’t get the treatment. This was true even when the lorcaserin-treated rats were exposed to cues such as lights and sounds that the animals were conditioned to associate with oxycodone.