Medicinal Plant Extract Could Quell Opioid Epidemic

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In a bid to tackle the global opioid crisis, researchers have found that a Chinese medicinal plant extract can prevent morphine tolerance and dependence while also reversing opiate addiction. The researchers published their results in Pharmaceuticals.

For over two decades, opioid analgesic overprescription has driven a wave of misuse and consequent drive overdose deaths around the world, with the number of drug overdose deaths tripling in the US from 1997 to 2017. The COVID pandemic has only worsened the opioid epidemic. Fortunately, the documented effects of YHS, the extract of the plant Corydalis yanhusuo, could help curb the opioid epidemic.

“It is critical that we decrease the use and abuse of opiates,” said Olivier Civelli, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences and corresponding author. “To help achieve this goal, we are proposing the use of this therapeutic plant. When used in animals, the Corydalis extract prevents pain and the negative effects of opiate use. The next step would be to test it with humans.”

The overprescription of opioid analgesics stemmed from treatment of chronic pain requiring repeated opioid administrations. This ultimately leads to tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction.

One possible solution involves a co-medication that maintains the analgesic benefits of opioids while preventing their adverse liabilities. The study showed that YHS, when co-administered with morphine, inhibits morphine tolerance, dependence and addiction. 

In Chinese traditional medicine, YHS has been used as an analgesic for centuries. It is considered safe and readily available for purchase.
“Opiate tolerance is of utmost importance to opiate users,” ProfvCivelli said. “They need to constantly increase the need of opiates to reach the same analgesic response. This is what leads to opiate overdose. YHS prevents opiate tolerance, so there is less need to increase opiate consumption.”

Source: University of California, Irvine

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