UMD Researchers Create Chemical Compound to Mitigate Fatality From Deadly Drugs

Working to fight back against a frightening trend of increased death rates from drug overdose, a University of Maryland research team has devised a new chemical compound that focuses specifically on methamphetamine and fentanyl, two of the largest contributors to overdose fatality statistics.

Though certain opioids such as fentanyl have a known reversal agent with naloxone, commonly marketed as the nasal spray Narcan, effectiveness is inconsistent and it does not work as a full-on antidote for non-opioid drugs that are commonly abused, such as PCP, cocaine, and ecstasy, among others — which is why the new compound dubbed P6AS presents a special opportunity. Instead of blocking brain receptor binding like naloxone, the research team’s new molecular container goes directly after drugs as they make their way through the bloodstream.

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“Our compound soaks up the drug in the bloodstream and, we believe, helps promote its excretion in the urine,” said Lyle Isaacs, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UMD and the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Chem. “This is known as a pharmacokinetic process, where we’re trying to minimize the concentration of free drug(s) that’s present in the body . . . people are getting so much fentanyl that multiple doses of naloxone are needed, so there’s room for a new and improved agent that might help in those situations.”

The idea of the compound promoting drug excretion via urine requires further testing. If trials support what has been predicted from research, it could be of great help in fentanyl overdoses in particular, which are as much as 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

The sheer potency of fentanyl, as well as the associated lingering effects, leave some patients prone to continued OD symptoms even after being administered naloxone. As Isaacs indicated, the excretion effect caused by the new compound could altogether halt this phenomenon, which is called “renarcotization.”