5 things to know about the search for non-addictive painkillers

While the nation is experiencing unprecedented rates of opioid overdose deaths, a painkiller revolution could be in the country's not-so-distant future.

America is poised to enter a new chapter in opioid medication with the development of non-addictive — yet highly effective — painkilling compounds, according to Jon Kelvey with the Smithsonian.com.

Here are five things to know about the search for non-addictive, opioid-level painkillers.

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1. In a recent clinical trial that enrolled 330 patients undergoing bunion surgery — a painful procedure, involving bone shaving — a new opioid called Oliceridine proved to be about three times as potent a painkiller as morphine and was associated with fewer adverse side effects like addiction and respiratory depression, which can ultimately incite overdose.

2. The science behind Oliceridine — manufactured by Trevena — is based upon growing research enhancing the scientific community's understanding of the underlying molecular mechanics of opioids. Mr. Kevely writes, "If this research bears fruit, morphine may soon go the way of the 19th century bone saw — making way for a revolution of new drugs that don't cause physical dependence and on which it is impossible to overdose. Drugs for which the risk of addiction will be negligible, or even disappear entirely."

3. Oliceridine is the only opioid compound of its kind to be tested on humans and has progressed to Phase III clinical trials. Results are expected to be reported early in 2017. If all goes well, the drug could be brought to market in just a couple of years.

"This could be the first in what you might think of as a new class of opioids," said Trevena co-founder Jonathan Violin, according to Smithsonian.com

4. Other drugs are also in development. UMB 425, a synthetic opioid being developed by Andrew Coop, PhD, a researcher the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore, is also being designed to top morphine in pain relief and harbor fewer side effects.

5. Despite this recent pharmacological progress, there is no guarantee these products would be a "magic bullet" type solution to the opioid epidemic.

"There have been several false dawns with respect to separating the desired from the unwanted effects of opioids and the current approaches may again not translate to treating people in the clinic" said Dr. Coop, according to Smithsonian.com.

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