Weight Loss Drug Could Treat Opioid Misuse Disorder


Lorcaserin observed to reduce opioid cravings.

A new study suggests that a weight loss drug may also be used to help fight the opioid epidemic by presenting another treatment option to patients with opioid misuse disorder.

The authors of a study published by ACS Chemical Neuroscience discovered that lorcaserin reduced cravings for oxycodone in rats with opioid misuse disorder, suggesting that it may have similar actions in humans.

One of the most successful pharmacotherapy options offered to patients is buprenorphine, but due to prescribing restrictions, patients may not be able to access the drug. High relapse rates and treatment cessation continue to drive the opioid epidemic. With opioid use and overdose rates increasing, discovering novel treatment options is crucial to prevent further deaths.

A majority of treatments for opioid misuse disorder occupy the opioid receptors in the brain, so patients are unable feel the euphoria associated with taking opioids. Individuals often relapse when they are in an environment they associate with drug use, even if they successfully completed non-drug treatment programs.

By contrast, lorcaserin alters the serotonin system by changing chemical signals that indicate fullness to prevent overeating in patients who are overweight. Serotonin regulates the drug-reward response by activating serotonin 2C receptors, according to the study.

Previous research by the authors has shown that lorcaserin reduces how often rats will complete a task to receive cocaine; however, it was previously unknown how altering the serotonin receptors may affect opioid cravings.

Included in the new study were rats that were trained to take oxycodone when exposed to certain lights and sounds. After the rats were regularly using the opioid, the drugs were no longer available to them.

The authors then administered either lorcaserin or placebo to the rats, and exposed them to lights and sounds associated with drug use. Oxycodone was then made available to the rats.

The authors discovered that rats treated with lorcaserin self-administered oxycodone less often than the placebo rats, according to the study. The lorcaserin cohort was also observed to react less strongly to the drug-associated environment than the placebo cohort.

To confirm that lorcaserin was responsible for these findings, a cohort of rats were given lorcaserin plus a drug that blocks serotonin 2 C receptors, which essentially canceled the action of the weight loss drug. The authors indicated that this group of rats sought out oxycodone, according to the study.

These findings show that an approved weight loss drug could be used to successfully treat patients with opioid misuse disorder. Additional studies are needed to confirm the drug’s efficacy in humans.

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

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Aimee Keegan, PharmD, BCOP, a clinical pharmacist
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