University Of Arizona, Oklahoma State Team Up To Fight Opioid Crisis, Chronic Pain

University of Arizona and Oklahoma State University will team up in new partnership to combat the … [+] nation’s opioid crisis.

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The University of Arizona and Oklahoma State University announced last week that the two research universities will form a partnership to address the opioid crisis and the problem of chronic pain. The new effort will combine research, treatment and education in an attempt to develop non-addictive treatments for people suffering from chronic pain as well as to discover new treatments for substance use disorders.

The unique partnership will involve three research centers from the two institutions:

Each center brings specific strengths to the table. Over the years, NCWR has accumulated tens of thousands of biosamples from patients with various addictions who are undergoing treatment or in recovery. In addition, it has access to about 18,000 novel research molecules from Purdue Pharma that had been designed to target neuronal mechanisms linked with chronic pain and addiction.

Arizona’s CPAC, a relatively new center at the university, has expertise in the neurobiology of chronic pain and addiction. The center studies the opioid epidemic from several angles, including preclinical and clinical research to clinical care, education, legislation and technology development.

And, according to the University of Arizona’s news release, CEAS has expertise in genetic targeting, the use of neuroanalytical methods, large data analysis and advanced behavioral assessment of drug-like substances.

The three centers will combine their respective research and clinical capabilities as part of a collaboration that will address several goals of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, launched in April 2018.

“The most important beneficiaries of this partnership will be millions of people who suffer from pain or are at risk of addiction and their families. Given the extreme need to address the opioid crisis, it’s a strategic priority,” said Dr. Robert Robbins, President of the University of Arizona. This is one of those true rare win-win situations. We believe that by tackling chronic pain and opioid use disorder together, the University of Arizona and OSU will lead us to discovery of novel non-addictive treatments for those with chronic pain while discovering new ways to treat substance use disorder.”

Among its various points of emphasis, the Arizona/Oklahoma State team will explore alternatives to opioids for treating acute and chronic pain, new methods for treatment and prevention of relapse from opioid use disorder, and other advancements in research about addictions.

One of the first problems the partnership is targeting is the national epidemic of fentanyl overdoses. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid often prescribed for severe pain, but because of its potency – estimated to be as much as 100 times that of morphine -and relatively cheap price, it’s often mixed by drug dealers with other drugs like cocaine and heroin. The result is that many drug users are vulnerable to a fatal overdose from fentanyl because they unknowingly take large doses of the drug, thinking it’s some other substance like OxyCodone.

The CDC estimates that over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Last year, the United States suffered more fentanyl-related deaths than gun- and auto-related deaths combined.

“We want to discover a medicine that can be advanced very, very quickly to implementation in humans to combat the overdose that happens with fentanyl,” said Frank Porreca, Ph.D., Cosden Professor of Pain and Addiction Studies in the Department of Pharmacology at the UArizona College of Medicine and one of the leaders of the partnership.

Commenting on the significance of the collaboration between the two institutions, Oklahoma State University President Kayse Shrum said, “I think anytime there is a crisis at this level, it’s important for universities to use their intellectual prowess to come together to really create solutions for society and I believe that’s what we have the opportunity to do here.”

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