Collaboration between U.S., drug companies could benefit Canada: scientist

published on May 31, 2017 by CAMILLE BAINS in The Globe and Mail

A scientist says a public-private partnership aimed at developing medications that would combat overdose deaths in the United States could potentially help chronic drug users in Canada.

Nora Volkow of the National Institutes of Health said the agency has joined forces with about a dozen drug companies in the United States to try and reach the “holy grail” – the creation of a non-addictive opioid to treat chronic pain.

Pharmaceutical companies spent millions of dollars aiming for that goal and failed, but 33,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2015 revived their interest, said Dr. Volkow, who heads the U.S. agency’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

She said Wednesday that companies then developed other drugs, wrongly believing people could not become addicted to prescription opioids.

Dr. Volkow and her colleague Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, have published a report on their initiative in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Overdoses involving overprescribing of opioids have been a major problem in the United States, creating the need for non-addictive options, Dr. Volkow said.

“That could also benefit Canada because Canada also has a significant problem with abuse and the diversion of prescription opioids.”

Dr. Volkow hailed Vancouver’s supervised injection sites to prevent overdose deaths but said a different health-care infrastructure has made that move impossible in her country.

Science must step in to accelerate the development of interventions to try and save lives during an opioid epidemic that is destroying communities, many involving the painkiller fentanyl, she said, the partnership also aims to develop better overdose reversal and prevention strategies.

A drug that is slow-released over six months has already been approved in the United States, and plans are under way to create new medications that are also released over extended times.

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