Novel Synthetic Opioids

Novel Synthetic Opioids (NSO) are a class of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) that mimic morphine and heroin but, in contrast to them, may be fully effective by the intranasal and oral route and many times more potent than morphine in producing acute toxicity. Their use is likely to become the primary source of NPS-associated deaths in Europe, given its increasing prevalence, opposite to that of other NPS classes, that is decreasing. This trend calls for action and better knowledge of the profile, setting and effects of these substances in order to devise strategies of intervention from the legal, epidemiological, diagnostic, clinical, emergency treatment and public awareness viewpoints.

The present project, apart from its general management and coordination, is articulated into 4 main lines of activity. The first line will involve collection of information from providers in several countries related to individuals who have been intoxicated by NSO or who died from their use. These data will indicate the specific classes of compounds towards which to orient the second line of activity, involving the development of new rapid and portable analytical methods of NSO present in biological specimens, to be later confirmed and extended by laboratory procedures. The third line of activity will consist in the study of selected NSO vis a vis their potency and intrinsic activity in vitro as opiate agonists and their behavioral and neurochemical effects in vivo. In order to develop effective interventions against NSO overdosing and lethality, known (e.g. naloxone, naltrexone) or ad hoc synthesized antagonists of μ receptors (MOR) with higher affinity and efficacy will be tested in animal models and humans. In the fourth line of activity, existing information and that generated by the project will be made available to the public in order to provide awareness of the toxic liability of these compounds and with tools to reduce their use and to treat their emergencies. It is hoped that this action will contribute to invert the current growing trend of NSO use and mortality.

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