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Lorcaserin: New Weight Loss Drug May Treat Opioid Addiction

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

March 1, 2019

Lorcaserin is a weight loss drug typically prescribed to help those struggling with weight-related health problems. However, a recent study has shown that the drug may also be effective for treating opioid addiction. Lorcaserin could help individuals overcome opioid abuse and avoid the triggers which lead to relapse.

Lorcaserin is used for treating people who are overweight, struggle with obesity, or have weight-related health problems. This medication helps them lose weight, and keep from gaining it back, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In 2017, a team of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch decided to study the effects of Lorcaserin on rats who had been given oxycodone, an opioid commonly abused in the United Sates. The results? Rats who had been given Lorcaserin sought oxycodone far less than rats who weren’t given Lorcaserin.

The study also covered cue reactivity. This part of research deals with how our brains respond to reward. These cues are what make a person’s brain continue to seek a drug due to increased good chemicals in the brain (like serotonin) with use of the drug.

As Medical News Today explains, “Cue reactivity is often the reason that people on opioid misuse treatment relapse when they encounter the people, places, situations, and equipment that they associate with their opioid use.” It results from repeated pairing of these stimuli with the experience of the drug use.

How Does Lorcaserin Work?

For weight loss, Lorcaserin works by affecting the body’s sensation of feeling full by changing serotonin levels in the brain. It is in this way that Lorcaserin can work to treat opioid addiction.

Serotonin may play a role in our sensation systems, but it also helps regulate the part of the brain which is responsible for reward (pleasure) and cue reactivity. What this means: for the study mentioned above, the rats who were given Lorcaserin not only sought less oxycodone, but also responded less to cues of a drug environment.

Cues, also called triggers, can greatly affect success in recovery by leading to relapse. Relapse is an accepted part of recovery, though people who have sought treatment may not realize it. When you leave the healing-focused environment of a treatment rehab center, and return to life as usual, you may encounter triggers associated with addiction.

Treatment with Lorcaserin may help people ignore triggers and successfully avoid falling into relapse.

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About Opioid Addiction

Opioids are a class of narcotic drugs which include prescription painkillers, like Fentanyl and Morphine, and illicit drugs like heroin. These drugs are highly addictive and high-risk; millions of people struggle with prescription opioid abuse and heroin abuse every year in the United States.

Many prescription opioids have a slow release effect to treat symptoms gradually over a period of up to a few hours. Abusing these drugs forces a quicker onset, and is part of the risk. Narcotics work to slow certain body functions, such as breathing and heart rate, which reduces the body’s perception of pain.

With abuse comes increased risk of side effects, including overdose. Abuse of opioids can quickly turn to addiction due to the highly addictive properties of the drugs. Unfortunately, addiction comes with its own set of risks and side effects, including adverse changes to health, family, personal life, work, finances, and more.

Side Effects Of Opioid Abuse

As with any drug of abuse, side effects vary according to the person taking it, how much has been taken, for how long, and how often. Some short-term effects of opioid abuse include:

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing
  • In extreme cases, coma

Long-term effects also vary. Prescription opioids have such a high risk of addiction they are prescribed only for period up of to 10 days. Maintaining use of opioids for longer than a few days most often leads to addiction and physical dependence, as well as tolerance.

When you have physical dependence on something, your body will let you know when you are missing it. This process is called withdrawal, which happens when you have been abusing a drug and no longer have access to it. Some symptoms include:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goose bumps
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches, sweating, yawning
  • Runny nose

Tolerance occurs when you no longer feel the effects of the drug when you take it. When this happens, people tend to take more of the drug in order to feel the effects. Though they don’t feel the effects, the body can only process so much of a drug at a time. That’s why tolerance can lead to increased risk of overdose.

Why Is Treatment Important For Opioid Addiction?

The Centers for Disease Control explains, “Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record.” None of us want to lose a loved one to addiction—and that’s the single most important reason to get into treatment.

The right treatment will help you or your loved one not only overcome addiction, but find ways to keep from falling back into it. Medications can help manage withdrawal and some, like Lorcaserin, can help overcome triggers that lead to relapse.

How And Where To Find Treatment

Other methods of treatment can help addicted individuals build entirely new lifestyles to ensure long-term success. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people develop daily habits which are fulfilling and free from substance abuse. Dialectical behavioral therapy helps people improve their levels of motivation, recognize their capabilities, and sustain both to live free from drug abuse. Counseling can help people work through the troubling thoughts and emotions that arise during treatment.

The best places to seek treatment are private rehab centers. Here’s why:

  • At private rehab centers, you’ll find care and support necessary to treatment success
  • Healing in rehab facility allows you to focus solely on healing your mind, body, and spirit
  • Healing in a private rehab center keeps you away from the triggers of your usual environment
  • Rehab centers have the evidence-based treatment methods that will give you the best chance to properly heal from addiction

Overcome Opioid Addiction

Seeking treatment for an addiction to opioids is a difficult, but necessary, first step into living a drug-free life. Contact us today at to learn more about opioid addiction and the best available rehab centers for treatment.

American Chemical Society - Commercial Weight-Loss Drug Could Help Treat Opioid Addiction

Drug Free World - Short- And Long-Term Effects Of Opioids

Medical News Today - Weight-Loss Drug Shows Potential To Treat Opioid Abuse

U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services - The U.S. Opioid Epidemic

U.S. National Library Of Medicine - Lorcaserin

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