Stopping Cocaine Addiction With Pharmaceutical Combo

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Scripps Research Institute recently revealed that a two-drug combination could possibly help those battling cocaine addiction.

The combination made up of naltrexone and buprenoprine, two existing pharmaceutical drugs, is a therapy that would help reduce individuals´ want for cocaine and also lessen their feelings of withdrawal. Scientists believed that the therapy is a step forward as there are currently no medications that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to combat cocaine addiction. The two-drug combination is discussed in this week´s edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“Combining drugs with multiple actions may be a useful approach that has not been utilized extensively,” Scripps Research Professor George Koob, chair of the Scripps Research Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders and team leader for the research, commented in a prepared statement.

In the past, individual drugs have been tested in clinical trials as possible treatments but all have been unsuccessful in treating people who have cocaine addiction.

“These findings potentially represent a huge bridge from basic research to the establishment of a new and effective medication for cocaine addiction,” noted Senior Research Associate Leandro F. Vendruscolo, a co-author on the study, in the statement.

The abuse of cocaine is thought to be one of the major drug issues in the U.S. In the mid-1990s, the Office of National Drug Control Policy published a study that stated that Americans spent more money on cocaine than all other illegal drugs combined. Another study completed in 2008 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 1.9 million Americans had used cocaine within a given month. Furthermore, the same year, approximately a quarter of emergency room visits related to drugs stemmed from cocaine use.

In terms of use, cocaine is snorted, injected, or smoked. When it´s used, it enters the bloodstream and then moves through the blood-brain barrier to reside in the brain´s motivational/pleasure circuits. Cocaine also stops the normal regulation of dopamine, which contributes to a feeling of euphoria based off a build-up of dopamine in the brain´s motivational systems.

With the history of cocaine use, physicians have changed up their treatment of the disorder. In the past, they focused on providing counseling, therapy, and other methods of social supporter for abusers of the drug. Current treatment focuses on anti-stress medications and other pharmaceuticals that can help target the long-term physiological effects of the cocaine.

However, through various studies, Koob and his fellow researchers determined that continued use of cocaine could cause the brain to change the point at which it reaches the feeling of euphoria. As time passes, the brain needs more of the drug to reach a certain high. If a user stops using cocaine, stress and aversion remains high.

The scientists used this knowledge to hone in on the effects of the drug; they discovered that two varied systems, kappa opioid system and mu receptor, could have different effects based on short versus extended use of cocaine for rats. They identified the risks and drawbacks, including negative emotions, which come back from not using the drug. In restoring the brain´s rewards as well as stress/adverse systems, the combination of pharmaceuticals can address cocaine addiction.

“This finding gave us a firm idea that, during extended access to cocaine, the positive brain reward function becomes attenuated while the negative brain stress/aversive systems get involved,” explained Professor Sunmee Wee of Scripps, a first author in the study, in the statement.

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