Opinion: New opioid addiction treatments are around the corner

Apr 10, 2024

A recent opinion article published in Rowan University’s news website, Rowan Today, discussed new scientific research in the field of opioid addiction and its treatment. Specifically, the article reviews the new work of researchers and physicians at Rowan University who have partnered with health systems to discover new treatments, as well as the underlying basis of opioid addiction.

Based in New Jersey, Rowan University is a public research university with medical campuses. Research led by Dr. Jessica Loweth at the Department of Cell Biology & Neuroscience at the Rowan-Virtua School of Translational Biomedical Engineering & Sciences has focused on examining how drug craving for prescription painkillers varies with reproductive hormone levels using a rodent model of drug addiction.

“There are findings that, generally speaking, females might be more sensitive to certain aspects of addiction than males,” said Dr. Loweth. According to the researcher, learning more about the way fluctuating hormones during the reproductive cycle could help identify therapeutic targets to reduce opioid cravings and promote abstinence in recovering users.

Meanwhile, another research team led by Dr. Dan Manvich has collaborated with researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to investigate how new compounds for the treatment of opioid use disorder can reduce the effects of opioids in the brain.   

“If we can understand how these drugs are exerting their therapeutic effects,” Dr. Manvich said, “then we can design improved compounds that do it best—optimally maximizing the beneficial effects and minimizing the unwanted side effects.” 

Another team of researchers at Rowan University, headed by Dr. Dan Chandler and as part of their collaboration with NIDA, investigates the effects of opioids and stress on the brain.  “Because stress reduces the brain’s ability to respond to natural opioids, these more potent abused opioids might become more rewarding because they’re reducing the anxiety that’s caused by stress,” said Dr. Chandler in his interview with Rowan Today.

Furthermore, the Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) in Stratford has received grants to support suicide prevention among populations vulnerable to addiction, including military veterans. This includes new programs to promote the use of Narcan, the medication used to reverse opioid overdose, in communities with high rates of opioid overdoses, as well as online courses instructing New Jersey physicians to manage opioid-dependent patients. 

“A particular challenge with xylazine-containing fentanyl is that Narcan seems to be less effective for counteracting overdose, but the research is coming fast and furious,” said Dr. Manvich. “There are a lot of outstanding researchers working to address these questions,” he added. “As long as the NIH has a healthy budget and continues to fund the research, I do really believe that novel medications and improved treatment strategies are around the corner.”