School of Pharmacy associate professor Yan Zhang, Ph.D., received a grant of $1.9 million by the National Institutes of Health in order to continue drug development research. What Zhang hopes to accomplish through the research is to develop new chemical entities that would help treat substance abuse disorders.
“A lot of treatments for drug abuse and addiction, particularly for opioids, have all the side effects that the drugs themselves have,” Zhang said in an April 15 VCU News article.
The treatments Zhang is speaking of are antidepressants like Zoloft, Prozac and Lexapro among others. According to VCU News, Zhang’s lab targets mu-opioid receptors, which are one of three opioid receptors that trigger the brain’s reward system and are thought to contribute to addictive behaviors. Zhang’s research is meant to allow a new chemical compound that would help do the same things that antidepressants do without blocking the function of the other two receptors. Specifically, Zhang’s research targets addiction to morphine and cocaine.
The receptor that antidepressants block is the nociceptin receptor, the receptor that mainly handles emotions such as anxiety and depression. As someone who takes Zoloft, I would prefer to have a medication where I didn’t have to block that. According to a 2013 New York Times article about the prevalence of antidepressants in American society, I am the one in 10 Americans on average that are on antidepressants. The side effects to taking antidepressants are weight loss or gain, nausea, constipation, fatigue and drowsiness. If Zhang did find in his research something that did not have those side effects I would be more than willing to switch medication.
I take medication because I can’t cope with my anxiety without it. I used to think that would be embarrassing to say before I began to be medicated, there was a certain sense of pride that comes with the thought process of, “I can deal with this on my own.” Before I started taking Zoloft my three greatest fears were 1. Dying 2. Dying alone and 3. Loss. The fear of loss bubbles up to a much bigger problem: No matter what I have pushed the people around me to believe I do care what is thought of me. Every stressor added up together leads to a sum of accomplishing nothing.
So instead of seeking the medication I needed, I self-medicated. Alcoholism and anxiety run in my family and unfortunately, when you aren’t strong enough to seek the help you deserve, one only acts as a perfect nesting ground for the other. While the medication I’m on hasn’t taken away all of my anxiety, it has allowed me to deal with it normally. Before, the anxiety at most would lead to an outburst of incredible anger, but now I’m able to use strategies to ensure that I don’t hurt myself.
I still fear those things but nowhere near as much. Thanks to the proper medication, the ground I stand isn’t as unsteady as it once was. I’m stable now. My hope is that Zhang can find the answer that he hopes for with his research.