Quirks & Quarks

Non-addictive pain killer could replace fentanyl

The new opioid has no side-effects because it targets only inflamed areas of the body.
Dark green fake oxycodone laced with fentanyl police have found in Halifax. (Halifax Regional Police)

Whenever you hear the word opioid in the news these days, it's usually followed by the word "crisis" or "epidemic." It's for good reason: people across the country are overdosing on fentanyl. The drug is so strong, a dose the size of two grains of salt can be fatal.

Fentanyl is being manufactured and sold illegally, but it's also used in hospitals as a powerful pain killer alongside drugs like morphine and oxycodone. All of these are opioids. And all opioids have side effects ranging from constipation, to sedation, to addiction, to even slowing respiration to the point of suffocation.

So the race is on to discover a drug to relieve pain, without side effects. A team out of Germany led by Dr. Christoph Stein, professor and chair of anesthesiology​ at Charity and Free University of Berlin, think they've got a solution. They designed a drug that skips the brain and heads straight to the area in pain. It acts like a local anesthetic and could be taken like a pill, but with no numbing, no high, just pain relief in the specific areas that are hurting.