Could This Weight Loss Drug Help Opioid Addicts?


A new study shows that a common weight-loss drug could have an additional side effect: reducing opioid cravings.

The findings, published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, centered around the drug known as lorcaserin. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Addiction Research found that lab rats on lorcaserin reacted less strongly to drug-taking cues in their environment (in other words, they were no longer impressed by lava lamps) and self-administered oxycodone less frequently.

The scientists concluded that lorcaserin’s efficacy in reducing drug cravings came from its effect on serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates drug reward circuitry in the brain.

For lead researcher Kathryn Cunningham, it wasn’t her first time experimenting with the efficacy of the weight-loss drug in curbing addictive impulses. Previously, the Galveston-based researcher had shown that lorcaserin would limit the number of times rats would be willing to complete a given task to earn a dose of cocaine.

“The effectiveness of lorcaserin in reducing oxycodone seeking and craving highlights the therapeutic potential for lorcaserin in the treatment of opioid use disorder,” she said in a press release. “We plan more studies to better understand how drugs like lorcaserin can help us stem the tide of addiction in America.”

The new research comes amid a rising wave of opioid abuse and drug-related fatalities. Since 1999, the numbers of deaths from prescription opioid overdose in the U.S. has quadrupled, according to CDC data.