March 24 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Texas in Galveston have discovered a prescription weight-loss medication has the potential to aid in recovery from opioid addiction.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified opioid abuse and addiction as a major health problem in the United States, with the number of opiate overdose deaths quadrupling since 1999.
A new study from the University of Texas Medical Branch found that the weight-loss drug lorcaserin reduced the use and craving for the opioid oxycodone in preclinical studies.
Many of the treatments for opioid abuse are designed to block opioid receptors and prevent the feeling of euphoria the drugs cause. However, the environment where a person uses drugs can be a powerful cue conditioning them to anticipate the drug-taking experience. Known as cue reactivity, the learned reflex often causes people trying to stop opioid use to relapse.
Serotonin regulates circuitry associated with drug reward and cue reactivity by activating serotonin 2C receptors in the brain. Lorcaserin, a drug prescribed for weight loss, changes the serotonin system by changing chemical signals that affect the feeling of fullness.
Previous research in rats showed lorcaserin decreased how many times the rats would complete a task to earn a dose of cocaine. In the current study, researchers trained rats to self-administer oxycodone while exposed to specific lights and sounds to create a drug-taking environment. After the rats were used to consuming oxycodone on a regular basis, they went through a period with no oxycodone. The researchers then administered lorcaserin to some of the rats while others were given a placebo.
The rats were placed in a drug-associated environment and oxycodone was made available to them again. The rats on lorcaserin self-administered less oxycodone and reacted less to cues compared to rats on placebo.
"The effectiveness of lorcaserin in reducing oxycodone seeking and craving highlights the therapeutic potential for lorcaserin in the treatment of opioid use disorder," Kathryn Cunningham, scientist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said in a press release. "We plan more studies to better understand how drugs like lorcaserin can help us stem the tide of addiction in America."
The study was published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience.