Overdoses from illegal synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, have skyrocketed, accounting for more than 57,000 deaths in 2020.
“The opioid crisis is now a fentanyl crisis,” says Roger Crystal, M.D., CEO and president of Opiant, a specialty pharmaceutical company developing medicines for addictions and overdose.
Overdoses from illegal synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, have skyrocketed, accounting for more than 57,000 deaths in 2020 (rising from 10,000 deaths in 2015).
“Fentanyl is a staggeringly dangerous compound. It acts faster, lasts longer and is more potent — 50 times more — than heroin,” says Dr. Crystal.
Opiant developed NARCAN® Nasal Spray, which reverses an overdose by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking the effects of the drug. NARCAN® was FDA-approved in 2015.
The spray has already saved many lives and is carried by first responders, such as EMTs and law enforcement. The Surgeon General has also advised individuals to carry the rescue drug.
Opiant is committed to developing more live-saving medicines.
“There aren’t many companies that are exclusively dedicated to developing medicines for addiction and drug overdose,” says Dr. Crystal. “I’m proud of the products we are developing, including products focused on alcohol use disorder and acute cannabinoid overdose.”
To help address the fentanyl crisis, the NIH is supporting Opiant’s work on a new investigational product in development, nasal nalmefene, which has certain attributes that, if proven, could be another therapeutic option to combat the opioid epidemic.
Due to their higher potency and longer half-life, synthetic opioids display much lowered sensitivity to naloxone. In December, the CDC advised multiple doses of naloxone may be needed to reverse a synthetic opioid overdose.
“Even after successfully reviving someone from an overdose, with a synthetic, they can fall back into an overdose,” says Dr. Crystal.
A cruel disease
“Addiction is a chronic brain disease,” says Dr. Crystal, “and we must treat it like any other chronic disease, with long-term care and medical treatments.”
He’s optimistic that with more innovation and additional medication options, more lives can be saved.
“Much like diabetes, we can’t cure opioid use disorder. However, we can enhance therapeutic treatments and drive better outcomes for patients,” he says.
To learn more, visit opiant.com.