In the wake of the worsening opioid epidemic in the United States, a number of innovative studies are being conducted regularly to identify the root causes of this problem, and different ways to treat opioid addiction. Along the same lines, Jean Bidlack, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has revealed that both opioids and candy bars are responsible for increasing the level of dopamine by triggering the same part of the brain.
She has compared injecting heroin to eating a candy bar, as both activate a part of brain that reinforces the pleasurable effects. Unlike the prevalent studies on opioid addiction treatment focusing on opioid receptors, Bidlack is trying to look at the problem by understanding the impact of the neurotransmitter dopamine on drug cravings. She further explained that the brain eventually gets adapted to the high levels of dopamine triggered by the consumption of drugs and candy bars. As a result, in the absence of the same levels of dopamine, it is overpowered by intense cravings.
During the above process, Bidlack noted the release of fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), a hormone induced in the liver with power to suppress the effects of dopamine in animals. Based on this finding, she aims to explore the prospect of using this hormone for opioid addiction treatment. Being the first-of-its-kind study, her work has received a two-year grant worth $385,000 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Pharmacologically, the past studies have highlighted FGF21 as a promising therapeutic approach for improving insulin sensitivity, promoting weight loss, etc.
FGF21 can cross the blood–brain barrier and modify phosphorylation cascades and gene expression in the whole hypothalamus. Also, it acts on the nervous system to prompt sympathetic nerve activity that regulates metabolism. In 2016, a team of researchers showed the FGF21-induced β-Klotho controls alcohol addiction in humans. These studies need further investigations on how FGF21 controls dopamine expression in the brain. Currently, Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company, is running clinical trials for an FGF21-based medication for obesity.
Opioids directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by inundating the circuit with dopamine. Compared to the natural rewards like eating, sex, etc., drugs like opioids release over two to 10 times the amount of dopamine. While the normal levels of dopamine are good for a person, the excessive amount released due to the abuse of drugs leads to drug-seeking behaviors. Consequently, a person tends to indulge in drug abuse repeatedly.
The long-term drug abuse can induce variations in one’s habit or nonconscious memory. One of the examples of this type of learning is conditioning, in which certain cues in a person’s daily affairs become associated with his or her drug experience and can trigger irrepressible cravings on exposer to them. Due to the development of increased dependence on drugs, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of overdose deaths in the U.S. Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, with 40 percent of them caused due to prescription opioids.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 7,437 possible overdose deaths were reported between June 5, 2017 and Apr. 25, 2018, with the weekly frequency of 103-270 cases. Further, around 41 percent of the individuals who died last month from a suspected opioid overdose were taking opioids from 10 or more doctors in the past year.
If you or your loved one is battling an addiction to opioids or any other drugs, contact the Arizona Prescription Abuse Helpline for help. We can connect you with some of the best prescription drug abuse treatment centers in Arizona. With the state-of-the-art facilities and comprehensive treatment plans, these centers offer lasting recovery. Call at our 24-hour prescription drug helpline 866-692-3563or chat online with our trained experts to know more about the best treatment facility available in your vicinity.