This Weight Loss Drug May Reduce Opioid Cravings: Study

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An FDA-approved drug that helps people lose weight may help them stay off opioids, too.

In research published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, University of Texas scientists showed in an experiment with rats that the drug reduces opioid cravings“The researchers trained rats to self-administer oxycodone while exposed to specific lights and sounds that create a drug-taking environment,” per a university news release.

Lorcaserin is currently marketed under the name brand Belviq. Credit: Wall Street Journal/YouTube

Lorcaserin is a prescription weight loss pill that works by altering the brain’s serotonin circuitry. It activates serotonin 2C receptors which help to make a person feel full.

“Previous work by Cunningham and her team have shown that lorcaserin decreases how many times rats will complete a simple task to earn a dose of cocaine,” per the news release. “However, much less is known about the involvement of the serotonin 2C receptors in altering how opiates feel rewarding for the user.”

Lorcaserin was deemed safe for the treatment of obesity in phase II and III studies last year for people with and without diabetes. The most commonly reported side effect was headache.

Related: Brain Volume Could Predict Weight Loss Success

“The effectiveness of lorcaserin in reducing oxycodone seeking and craving highlights the therapeutic potential for lorcaserin in the treatment of opioid use disorder,” said Kathryn Cunningham, lead researcher, in the news release. “We plan more studies to better understand how drugs like lorcaserin can help us stem the tide of addiction in America.”

Physicians Group Releases Opioid Treatment Guidelines

Meanwhile, the American College of Physicians (ACP) sounded an alarm about the nation’s opioid epidemic. In a news release, they outlined sweeping recommendations for bringing treatment to those who need it.

“Substance use disorders are treatable chronic medical conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, that should be addressed through expansion of evidence-based public health and individual health initiatives to prevent, treat, and promote recovery,” said Dr. Nitin S. Damle, President of the ACP.

Per the ACP, only 18 percent of the 22.5 million Americans in 2014 who needed drug or alcohol treatment got it. This is in stark comparison to treatment rates for other chronic disease such as high blood pressure (77 percent), depression (71 percent) or diabetes (73 percent), the ACP pointed out.

Related: Treating Chronic Pain With Cannabis Could Be Less Addictive Than Opioids

In its new guidelines, the ACP lists marijuana as an illicit drug. The organization explains it did so because it still is recognized as such by the federal government. This, despite the fact that about half the states have now legalized it in some form or another.

“Physicians can help guide their patients towards recovery by becoming educated about substance abuse disorders and proper prescribing practices, consulting prescription drug monitoring systems to reduce opioid misuse, and assisting patients in their treatment,” Dr. Damle said.

The opioid epidemic will be one of many topics addressed at the ACP’s internal medicine conference in San Diego this week, and Vital Updates writer David Heitz will be there. Stay tuned for conference coverage all this week.

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”