Doctors may be more successful in helping people overcome addiction with new information that certain patients will need a higher dose of methadone to kick their habit.

One of the uses of the narcotic is to ease pain in people who are addicted to opioids like heroin or Vicodin but are seeking help, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. “It works to treat people who were addicted to opiate drugs by producing similar effects and preventing withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using these drugs.” But just as biology may change someone’s tolerance for any medication, as well as alcohol or drugs, methadone dosage counts.

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Researchers have found that people with African ancestry have a genetic variation that is linked to an effective methadone dose, possibly making it easier to determine the proper daily amount, according to a study in Molecular Psychiatry.

“Patients receiving methadone treatment vary widely in their dose requirements,” Yale University said in a statement about their researchers’ work. “Individualized dosing is crucial to recovery: Too high of a dose can cause sedation and dangerous breathing difficulties; too low of a dose often leads to relapse.”

The same genetic variant that would make black patients recovering from drug addiction need a higher dose of methadone would also make black children need more post-surgery pain meds. Image courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

The patients with the genetic variant, not found in those of European descent, would need a higher dose of methadone to be treated successfully.

In a non-addiction setting, the same genetic effect would require children with African ancestry to receive a larger dose of morphine to treat surgical pain.

Given the prevalence of opioid abuse and addiction in the United States, “improving the effectiveness of medical therapies has to be a priority,” lead author Andrew H. Smith said in the Yale statement.

The study notes that no other biomarkers exist for assisting doctors in treating opioid addiction, but this newly discovered gene variant may soon help those caring for black patients.

Source: Gelernter J, Smith AH, Jensen KP, et al. Genome-wide association study of therapeutic opioid dosing identifies a novel locus upstream of OPRM1. Molecular Psychiatry. 2017.

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