Weight Loss Drugs May Curb Opioid Use

Saxenda is a liraglutide injection
Saxenda is a liraglutide injection | Image by Mohammed_Al_Ali/Shutterstock

Weight loss drugs have been all the rage in the fight against obesity, but researchers have found that they might also hold promise in curbing opioid cravings.

Preliminary findings from a small trial conducted by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine at the Caron Treatment Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, have suggested that weight loss drugs reduce the desire for opioids among those with substance abuse issues.

Patricia Grigson, a behavioral neuroscientist at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, presented the early data from this 20-person trial at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on February 17.

Only half of the 20 patients received liraglutide — an injectable GLP-1 drug — while the others were given a placebo. Some participants who were administered higher doses of the medication left the trial after experiencing negative side effects, such as nausea.

Although more research is needed, the administration of the smallest dose of liraglutide over 19 days purportedly reduced opioid cravings by 30%.

“For them to have any time when they might be free of that craving seems to be very hopeful,” Grigson said, according to Science News.

Opioids are behind the vast majority of drug-related deaths, especially fentanyl — a cheap but potent synthetic opioid analgesic that kills an estimated five Texans each day. According to federal data, opioid-related deaths nationwide doubled between 2010 and 2017, rising from 21,089 to 47,600. In 2020, an alarming increase was seen, with 68,630 opioid-related deaths reported. This was followed by yet another substantial rise in 2021 when a total of 80,411 deaths were logged.

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, this is not the first time the use of GLP-1 class drugs has been suggested as an addiction treatment. For instance, one study in 2022 found that such drugs reduced alcohol consumption in rodents and non-human primates. Anecdotally, many takers of weight loss medications reported decreased cravings for alcohol and tobacco.

While more research is needed, GLP-1 medications have been proven to induce satiation and dampen one’s desire to eat by mimicking a hormone known as glucagon-like peptide-1. This also modulates activity in the brain’s reward pathways, which is how researchers think these drugs are potentially curbing addiction.

Although GLP-1 drugs were originally developed for diabetics, they surged in popularity as a treatment for obesity these past few years, as extensively covered by The Dallas Express.

Obesity — a chronic disorder associated with an array of negative health outcomes, such as heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes — has been rising in prevalence in the United States. In Texas, children and adults have obesity rates of around 17% and 35.5%, respectively.

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