Research Finds Weight Loss Drug Lorcaserin May Help With Opioid Addiction Recovery

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Research Finds Weight Loss Drug Lorcaserin May Help With Opioid Addiction Recovery

In a new study published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, researchers found that the weight-loss medication lorcaserin (Belviq) may decrease cravings for opioid drugs. It seems the drug affects serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for feeling full (as in, not hungry) and is also related to brain circuitry that regulates drug reward.

For the study, a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Addiction Research trained rats to self-administer oxycodone in response to specific light and sounds. Once the rats were accustomed to taking oxycodone, researchers made the drug unavailable.

Then, some rats were administered a placebo while others were given lorcaserin, then returned to the environment that produced the lights and sounds. Rats on lorcaserin had a weaker response to the light and sound cues and thus self-administered oxycodone less frequently than those taking a placebo.

To ensure the weight loss drug was indeed responsible for the diminished drug interest, research administered the rats a drug that neutralized the effects of lorcaserin by blocking serotonin receptors. And indeed, they found that those rats continued trying to administer oxycodone.

Kathryn Cunningham, researcher via press release:

“The effectiveness of lorcaserin in reducing oxycodone seeking and craving highlights the therapeutic potential for lorcaserin in the treatment of opioid use disorder.”

These findings are interesting because many current medications used to treat opioid addiction focus on hijacking the opioid receptors so that opioids taken cannot attach themselves effectively. However, some in recovery taking these medications will still relapse when exposed to drug cues, such as paraphernalia.

That is, the lights and sounds used to cue the rats were meant to mimic trigger conditions. In other words, the study’s primary focus was on the anticipation of responses to environmental triggers that may encourage relapse.

Cunningham says that they plan to conduct more studies to improve understanding of how drugs like lorcaserin can help battle opioid addiction.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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