Researchers say they’ve found a genetic variant associated with opioid addiction, and it might lead to personalized treatment for the condition.
Specifically, the variant was found in black Americans affecting the gene OPRM1, which is responsible for the way opioids affect the brain. Researchers at Yale University said this may identify which blacks might require higher doses of methadone. Methadone is an effective treatment for people addicted to heroin.
Proper methadone dosing is critical. Too high a dose can cause sedation and dangerous breathing difficulties, while too low of a dose can lead to relapse, the researchers said in background notes.
“Opioid addiction has become a national epidemic, and improving the effectiveness of medical therapies has to be a priority,” study lead author Andrew Smith said in a university news release. Smith is a student in the M.D./Ph.D. program.
The researchers also said they’ve found that the same gene variant can predict the morphine dose required for effective pain control for black children undergoing surgery.
“We found specific gene effects in people with African ancestry, an understudied population,” said study senior author Joel Gelernter, a professor of psychiatry, genetics and neuroscience at Yale.
The researchers didn’t find these gene effects in people of European ancestry who had methadone treatment.
Smith and Gelernter said follow-up studies are needed to confirm the effects they saw in their study.
The findings were published Jan. 24 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on opioids.