UNC researcher works to help people who may become addicted to opioid medicines

It’s not so much a Brave New World of medicine as it is a scary one.

“Certainly, when I was trained in medicine which was in the late '70s, early '80s, we generally did not give opioids for sort of routine pain control,” says UNC researcher, Bryan Roth.

Roth is very familiar with how effective opioid medicines can be.

“The problem is that about 10 percent of people who take opioids have a problem with them,” says Roth. “In my psychiatric practice, I remember talking to people who were opioid addicts who very frequently would tell a story that the very first time they took an oxycodone or whatever, it was like, 'Wow, I've been looking for this, my entire life.' The way their brains are wired they get this really strong rewarding property from opioids that other people don't get.”

It would be great to know who those people are so that we can avoid the downside of these medications.

“And right now there's really no way to pick those people out from basically the population that comes in to see a physician,” says Roth. “So, even if it's only 5 or 10 percent of people who are prescribed opioids that may, ultimately, become dependent or have a susceptibility to become dependent, when you're giving these to 30 or 40 million people a year, this becomes a really, really major problem.”

Roth and his team at UNC Chapel Hill were determined to help and with a grant through the National Institutes of Health, they think they have the answer.

“We were able to solve the structure of these receptors which, scientifically, was a major breakthrough,” he says.

See what Dr. Roth and his team have discovered in this edition of the Buckley Report.