Today the USA finds itself in the midst of an opioid crisis, claiming 40,000 American lives every year – a comparable death toll to the HIV epidemic at its peak. Aside from the devastating human cost, it imposes a staggering annual economic burden of $504 billion US dollars, around three percent of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  

There is potentially a significant breakthrough in the form of a new non-addictive opioid called AT121. A team of researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine and Astrea Therapeutics recently published results about the new painkiller which lacks the addictive tendencies of other opioids. The hope is that this promising new drug, rather than managing the crisis, could alleviate it all together.

In tests on monkeys the pain relief results were similar to common opioids such as morphine and Oxycodine – however unlike conventional opioids, once the pain was relieved, the monkeys ceased administering the drug, indicating that the new drug lacks the addictive qualities.

They also found that the drug suppressed the pressure receptors in the brain causing opioid addiction, providing hope that AT121 could serve a dual purpose in the future, both as a painkiller and a tool to abate opioid dependency in patients .

While the overall results are quite exciting and present a very promising approach,  AT121 has yet to begin any clinical trials in humans, it will be several years before it finds its way into pharmacies and the medicine cabinets of those plagued by opioid addiction. Nonetheless, it should be viewed as a positive step forward in the fight to one day, as President Donald Trump promised, “liberate America from opioid dependency”.


Also read Carla Smith’s take on how the US and Canada can work together to solve the crisis: