A new study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse is performing research on a pain receptor which is situated underneath the skin called the delta opioid receptor. This is the receptor that regulates all of the minor sensations in the skin, such as warmth and touch. People who suffer from a condition called allodynia can benefit from medicines which act on the delta opioid receptor. Allodynia is a medical condition that can cause severe pain from minor skin sensations, and when the delta opioid receptors are targeted the pain can be managed more effectively by interfering with the way that the sensory neurons communicate with the brain and spinal cord. This interference diminishes the pain that the patient feels, and it shows promise for other areas as well.
Minimizing communication between nerves and the nervous system may be promising for pain management for many reasons. It is possible to provide effective pain management using opioid medications without increasing the risk that the patient will become addicted to the drugs prescribed. Opiates are one of the drugs which are commonly abused, and addiction is a very real possibility even when the patient has a medical need for these drugs. If medical professionals can manage pain while minimizing the risk of addiction then patients will not be forced to suffer because doctors are worried about the addictive potential of the medication they are prescribing, and fewer opioid medications will be found on the street. Prescription drug abuse is a big problem in Canada and the USA, and the study being performed may help eliminate some of the issues involved when pain medications are needed.