To tackle the runaway opioid addiction crisis, some drug makers have tried to make pain pills harder to abuse without changing the opioid molecule itself. This strategy often misfires: People figure out ways to bypass the abuse-resistant technology, allowing the unmodified opioid to enter the brain quickly, resulting in a euphoric high.
Clinical trial data released Tuesday bolsters the case for a different approach: Changing the opioid molecule itself. That’s what Nektar Therapeutics is doing with an experimental opioid tablet, known as NKTR-181, that’s designed to cross the blood-brain barrier more slowly. The goal: relieve pain, but with less euphoria and a lower potential for abuse.