NARCAN Developer Targets Synthetic Cannabis ODs, Alcohol Addiction, Bulimia

Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock
February 13, 2019
Updated 3mo ago

By Carlo Versano

Opiant Pharmaceuticals, the developer of opioid antidote NARCAN, is in the process of developing a version of its lifesaving drug for cannabanoid overdoses, the company's CEO told Cheddar in an interview on Wednesday.

While cannabanoid overdoses are rare, synthetic versions of cannabis like K2 and Spice are far more likely to cause users to OD. Opaint's Dr. Roger Crystal said a version of NARCAN is showing promise in treating the effects of synthetic cannabis overdoses "for the purposes of using it in the ER." NARCAN is the brand name for a drug called naloxone that rapidly blocks the effects of an opioid like heroin or morphine.

Opiant ($OPNT) also completed a trial using naloxone to combat bulimia nervosa, the eating disorder, Crystal said. The results of that trial will be made public soon.

The pharmaceutical company, which focuses on drugs for addiction treatment, is working on a separate nasal spray that it hopes to use in treating alcohol addiction. Because addictive behavior often starts with a sense of craving, which causes the brain to release endorphins in anticipation of receiving the addictive substance, it can be possible to block those endorphins quickly via a nasal spray, according to Crystal.

NARCAN has become a critical component in treating opioid overdoses, which have quickly turned into the country's leading public health crisis, killing 130 Americans a day, according to the CDC. But the drug remains ineffective in combating serious overdoses from fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that's 50 times more potent than heroin and stays in the body far longer.

Fentanyl is far and away the leading cause of drug deaths, and it's especially hard to combat. The drug is relatively easy to produce, and it's cheap. "Most of the fentanyl is from China," Crystal said, but even if that spigot was cut off, it wouldn't stop home labs from popping up around the country.

Crystal said there's progress being made in developing a nasal spray known as nalmefene that could be effective in stopping fentanyl overdoses.

"We're making progress" in the opioid fight, Crystal said.

NARCAN requires a prescription in the U.S., which Crystal argued is helpful in teaching people how to use it effectively. If the drug were over-the-counter, that onus would be on the patient, rather than a pharmacist acting as a "gatekeeper", he said.

At the same time, while Opiant does not sell or market NARCAN, Crystal wants to see it more widely available. "What we want to see, as a country, is more access to Naloxone," he said.

For full interview click here.