A few months ago it was announced that two ketamine-based drugs had been placed on the FDA fast track. One of the drugs, ketamine, has since been approved for treating depression. But the other, rapastinel, failed its late-stage trials for depression treatments.
While rapastinel didn’t get approval from the FDA as a depression treatment, it may still be useful in treating opiate addiction. Rapastinel is much like the drug ketamine, but it has proven to have fewer risks than it’s parent drug. This is why it may be helpful in treating opioid addictions.
In an animal study, it was found that rapastinal was able to substantially reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal during the first few days, especially for opiate drugs, can be intense. Physical symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, muscle aches, chills, sweating, fast heart rate, insomnia, and agitation. There can also be psychological symptoms such as depression, aggression, or anxiety.
The US is currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic. There are around 36 million people around the world that are abusing opioids. Currently, drugs such as methadone and suboxone can help to treat withdrawal. While these do work, they are still opioids, which increases the risk of abuse.
During the animal study, researchers model opiate addiction in rats. Then, track their signs of withdrawal. Rats were put into groups and given rapastinel, ketamine, or a saline solution. On the third day, rats given rapastinel started showing far fewer withdrawal symptoms than the other rats.
Currently, rapastinel is only in the animal testing phase. However, with the trails this promising it’s likely that further studies will be done. With such a severe opiate epidemic going on a new treatment is important. While it’s unfortunate that rapastinel isn’t effective as a depression treatment, it’s great that researchers are finding another use for it.