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D. Researchers Strive to Ease Morphine Addiction

Narrator: This is Science Today. People who suffer from chronic pain usually have bigger problems than morphine addiction. Many have cancer or other debilitating illnesses. But when these patients try to stop taking the drugs that relieve their pain, they often suffer physical withdrawal. Dr. Jennifer Whistler of the University of California, San Francisco, leads a team of researchers who may have found a way to ease the transition.

Whistler: We think that the kind of tolerance that you develop to morphine is going to go hand-in-hand with dependence. By dependence I mean physical dependence-whereby you're going to show signs of withdrawal.

Narrator: Morphine dependence worsens as the dosage is increased. Because patients tend to build a tolerance for morphine, long-term users end up taking high doses of the drug. Whistler found that using a tiny amount of another opiate, like methadone, with the morphine, prevented test rats from becoming tolerant of the drug.

Whistler: And if that's true, hopefully that will be true for patients as well. Even at a single dose you may be able to prevent some of the physical signs of withdrawal from the drug.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.