A study published in the September issue of Anesthesiology reports that a new therapeutic drug, GAL-021, may reverse or prevent respiratory depression in patients taking opioid medication without compromising pain relief or increasing sedation. GAL-021 is an intravenous respiratory stimulant that works by blocking certain potassium channels in the brain that regulate breathing. Risk of respiratory depression is among the most serious of potential adverse effects from opioid therapy.
Current drug treatments for opioid-induced respiratory depression include administering a drug such as naloxone that counteracts the effect of the opioid and/or decreasing opioid doses; however, both compromise pain relief. In the study, GAL-021 stimulated breathing in 12 healthy male volunteers who experienced opioid-induced respiratory depression that reduced their breathing capacity by 25 to 30 percent. Read a news story about the study here.