Scripps scientists unveil new non-addictive painkiller

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Scientists at Scripps Florida say they've discovered a substance that promises to kill pain almost as effectively as morphine and oxycodone, but without the side effect of addiction.

In a study published today in the journal Nature Chemistry, Scripps scientists say the analgesic conolidine works in mice as a painkiller.

"It looks to be nearly as potent as morphine," said Laura Bohn, an associate professor in Scripps' departments of molecular therapeutics and neuroscience.

Just as significant, the compound seems not to have side effects. Opiates such as morphine and oxycodone have been widely used for years to treat severe pain, but the powerful painkillers also can cause nausea, constipation and addiction.

Conolidine is found in tiny amounts in the plant crepe jasmine, a shrub that grows in Florida and Asia and has been used in Chinese and Thai medicine. Scientists long had speculated that crepe jasmine could contain opiates, but Bohn said Scripps' work showed that the analgesic compound in crepe jasmine is not an opiate.

A crepe jasmine shrub contains only a tiny amount of conolidine, not enough to use as a drug. But Scripps chemist Glenn Micalizio said he was able to manufacture the compound in his lab in Jupiter.

Bohn said it'll be years before conolidine is tested in humans. She's applying for a National Institutes of Health grant that would pay for further research.

One question Bohn wants to answer is whether conolidine would work in pill form.

Mice in her tests were injected with the compound.

South Florida is a national hub for the sale of oxycodone to addicts. A non-addictive painkiller would be a "miracle drug," said Doug Tieman, president and chief executive of the Caron Foundation, which runs addiction treatment centers throughout the country.

But, he said, addiction counselors have learned to be dubious of hopeful headlines about harmless painkillers.

"In theory, it would be terrific, and we are hopeful that scientists will eventually succeed in finding such a medication," Tieman said. "But since we are a long way away from that reality, it is business as usual."