Hope Found in New Drug Rapastinel to Treat Opioid Addiction

By Duru Cosar

Current medications that are available to relieve withdrawal symptoms in people recovering from opioid use may cause side effects and keep the brain changes that led to the addiction initially, which may lead to relapse. However, new research gives hope that a better solution is out there.

Rapastinel, which is an experimental drug that was initially an antidepressant, may be useful in helping to manage withdrawal during the first days after entering treatment. According to Julia Ferrante, an undergraduate at Villanova University, Rapastinel did not show any negative side effects. Ferrante worked with Cynthia M. Kuhn, PhD, who is a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University, to study this new drug. Current drugs, buprenorphine and methadone, are dangerous because they are also opioids and thus may cause the patient to have side effects and become dependent on them. Ketamine, which is a non-opioid option for treatment, may cause hallucinations and other side effects. Rapastinel binds to the same receptor that ketamine does, but at a different site where the effect is milder. Kuhn and Ferrante looked at opioid dependence in rats by giving groups of rats rapastinel, ketamine, or a saline solution. After three days, rats given rapastinel showed less signs of withdrawal than the other rats. The drug has not been tested on in humans yet because it is not fully developed. Researchers will investigate its effects more closely. If approved for treatment, rapastinel would probably be given intravenously in an outpatient setting. It is still unknown how long patients would need to take rapastinel to recover from opioid addiction.


Experimental Biology. (2019, April 7). Experimental drug shows promise for opioid withdrawal symptoms: In rats, rapastinel reverses signs of withdrawal with no side effects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2019 fromwww.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190407144228.htm