Professor Mamoun M. Alhamadsheh and a group of graduate students from University of the Pacific’s Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy are working to discover a longer-lasting treatment for opioid overdoses.

Pacific  received a five-year $1.69 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health in April  to help with the purchase of new equipment for the university in order to find a new antidote, according to Alhmadsheh. For the teacher and students, it’s a critical mission.

“If you look at the count of opioid overdoses, It’s killing more than 100 thousand Americans over the last year,” Alhamadsheh said. 

There were 6,843 opioid-related overdose deaths in California with 5,722 of those deaths being related to fentanyl in 2021 based on data from the California Department of Public Health. According to the National Institute of Health, 106,669 Americans died from a drug-involved overdose in 2021, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.

“The current antidote of Narcan is good but it’s not super effective,” Alhamadsheh said, explaining how many opioids can stay in the body much longer than Narcan causing multiple doses of Narcan to be given to the patient. “This causes harm to the patient.”

Earlier this year, Stockton Unified School District approved Narcan kits to be in all SUSD schools in hopes to revive students who overdose. San Joaquin County Public Health Services has provided no-cost Nasal Spray Narcan since the rise in opioid overdoses last year.

Graduate Student Hala Aldwod noted how the project would help a lot of people, specifically high school students. Aldwod started on the project to make a longer-lasting antidote for overdoses that can stay in the body much longer than the ones on the market today.

The team is working to extend the duration of antidotes in the body for 24 hours or more using antidotes already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including Narcan (also known as naloxone).

Using a novel drug delivery approach previously discovered by Alhamadsheh, graduate student Hala Aldawod optimized the technology for countering overdoses by designing a new molecule that stays in the body and releases the antidote slowly rather than all at once.

“The significance of this finding is tremendous. This is the first time someone has increased the half-life of naloxone, while maintaining its full efficacy. The beauty of our approach is that we are empowering drugs that are already approved by the FDA,” Alhamadsheh said.

In 2021, there were 224 fentanyl-related overdose deaths among teens, ages 15-19 in California according to the California Department of Public Health.

“The project is very exciting and rewarding,” Aldwod said, expressing her hopes that one day their findings for a new antidote will make it to the market to help many patients.

Toward the end of the year, there will be a report about the preliminary work the team did according to Alhamadsheh, with hopes in a couple of years the team will be able to initiate their antidote in the market.

“It is very rewarding,” Alhamadsheh said, expressing how this project will open the eyes of UOP Pharmacy students to real-life problems. “You are of course ultimately saving the lives of many people in the U.S.”

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