With opioid addiction and overdoses surging in the United States, researchers at UC Irvine say an herbal treatment — used in conjunction with opioid painkillers — could lessen dependency and help curb the epidemic.
In the a study published in the October issue of the journal Pharmaceuticals, UCI researchers found that YHS, an extract of the plant Corydalis yanhusuo, is a “possible solution” that could be used as a “co- medication,” in tandem with morphine, to help manage pain while minimizing the negative effects of opioids.
“A possible solution consists of a co-medication that maintains the analgesic benefits of opioids while preventing their adverse liabilities,” according to UCI.
“The research findings show that YHS, when co-administered with morphine, inhibits morphine tolerance, dependence and addiction. If YHS is used with morphine at the start or during pain management, there will be less need of morphine and thus less risk of addiction.”
Over the past two decades, dramatic increases in opioid overdoses have occurred in the United States and other nations — and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the epidemic has worsened, according to UCI.
The epidemic was triggered by an overprescription of opioid analgesics, researchers said.
“Opiate tolerance is of utmost importance to opiate users,” Olivier Civelli, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.
“They need to constantly increase the need of opiates to reach the same analgesic response. This is what leads to opiate overdose. YHS prevents opiate tolerance, so there is less need to increase opiate consumption,” he said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half a million Americans have died of an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2019.
“It is critical that we decrease the use and abuse of opiates,” Civelli said. “To help achieve this goal, we are proposing the use of this therapeutic plant. When used in animals, the Corydalis extract prevents pain and the negative effects of opiate use. The next step would be to test it with humans.”
YHS has been used as analgesic in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, according to UCI.