July 3, 2024 – Now, researchers have found an approach that could extend naloxone’s lifesaving power, even in the face of ever-more-dangerous opioids. A team of researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Stanford University and the University of Florida have identified potential drugs that make naloxone more potent and longer lasting, “Naloxone is a lifesaver, but it’s not a miracle drug; it has limitations,” said co-senior author Susruta Majumdar, PhD, a professor of anesthesiology at Washington University. “Many people who overdose on opioids need more than one dose of naloxone before they are out of danger. This study is a proof of concept that we can make naloxone work better — last longer and be more potent — by giving it in combination with a molecule that influences the responses of the opioid receptor.”

Opioids such as oxycodone and fentanyl work by slipping inside a pocket on the opioid receptor, which is found primarily on neurons in the brain. The presence of opioids activates the receptor, setting off a cascade of molecular events that temporarily alters how the brain functions: reducing the perception of pain, inducing a sense of euphoria and slowing down breathing. It is this suppression of breathing that makes opioids so deadly.