Antidote For Cocaine Addiction? We're Closer To Drug That Can Block Cocaine's Pleasurable Effects

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The drug would help to ease the recovery from cocaine addiction. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Coke. Blow. Yayo. No matter what you choose to call it, the truth remains that cocaine destroys lives, depleting bank accounts, tearing families apart. A recent Danish study has provided a glimmer of hope for those living with addiction. Researchers developed a new drug that would be used in addition to recovery therapy, and although it would not be able to make the cravings disappear completely, it would make the recovery process much easier.

The researchers, from the University of Copenhagen, recently gained more knowledge of the biological mechanism behind cocaine’s euphoric effect: They uncovered the interaction which controls access of dopamine, the hormone which signals pleasure in our brains.

“If we have a better understanding of the dopamine transporter function we will become more proficient in developing an antidote against addiction,” said Associate Professor Claus Juul Loland, from the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, in a press release.

Cocaine acts as an inhibitor of the dopamine transporter. “We found two amino acids in the proteins that dynamically breaks and forms an interaction,” Loland said. “If the interaction were to be broken that would mean that cocaine would no longer be able to produce its pleasurable effect, or as Loland puts it, “cocaine will not then work anymore.”

In an email to Medical Daily, Loland explained that theoretically this drug would work similar to how methadone works for heroin addicts.

“The drug would have to be taken regularly. It occupies the cocaine binding site, without the stimulating action of cocaine. But it would also be degraded and have to be replenished,” Loland said.

This would not only work on cocaine but also other similar drugs, most notably amphetamine (speed or Adderal) and methylphenidate (Ritalin). The drug, although impressive, would not be the one step “cure” to cocaine addiction.

“The drug is not a wonder drug,” Loland said. “It would aid in the treatment of cocaine addiction, but the patient would have to be willing to go into rehab and other actions have to be taken in addition to this.”

Males aged 18 to 25 years old have the highest rate of cocaine use in the United States. According to the most recent Global Drug Survey, cocaine is the most expensive drug in the world, but that doesn’t stop millions from using it. The drug has seen a significant drop in popularity since the 1980s, but still it’s believed that nearly two million Americans have used the drug in the past month, and of those many meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for dependence or abuse of cocaine.  

While one piece of the puzzle has been solved, there is still more research needed before a true antidote for cocaine can be created. Loland says researchers typically say 10 years when they cannot give a time frame, as it "depends on 50 percent research and 50 percent political willingness to put efforts…” forward.

Source: Pedersen AV, Andreassen TF, Loland CJ. A Conserved Salt Bridge between Transmembrane Segments 1 and 10 Constitutes an Extracellular Gate in the Dopamine Transporter. The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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