Diabetes Drug Could Slow Speedy Addicts

Diabetes medication exenatide could become treatment for addiction to cocaine and other stimulants

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) In most cases, a drug is first created to treat one disease. Later down the road, however, researchers may find that the drug can be used for other purposes - which is the case now with a certain diabetes drug.

A medication used to treat type 2 diabetes may also treat addiction to cocaine and other drugs, according to a recent study.

The researchers found that a medication called exendin-4 - which is already used to treat diabetes - reduced the rewarding effects of cocaine in animals.

However, this means this medication won't be available for humans unless further studies are done.

"Seek help for drug addiction."

It is already known that a specific brain mechanism is involved in the treatment of diabetes.

Gregg Stanwood, PhD, of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and Vanderbilt Brain Institute, and colleagues showed that the same brain mechanism may also be involved in certain types of drug addiction.

"We suspect that this is a general mechanism that will translate to additional drugs of abuse, especially other stimulants like amphetamine and methamphetamine," said Dr. Stanwood.

Exendin-4 or exenatide (sold as Byetta and Bydureon) is a drug that works by stimulating the pancreas to make more insulin when blood sugar levels rise too high. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body move sugar out of the blood to be used as energy by other body tissues. In diabetes, patients' blood sugar rises because they either do not respond properly to insulin or do not make enough insulin.

Exendin-4 is already approved by the FDA to treat diabetes, said Aurelio Galli, PhD, of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute.

"I think the power of this research is that it is so easily translatable to humans because it is already FDA approved," said Dr. Galli.

This study is the first sign that the diabetes medication will work on addiction to stimulants, he said.

Dr. Galli went on to explain that any disease based on problems with dopamine (the hormone that gives the reward effect from stimulant drugs) could be targeted by this diabetes medication.

Dr. Stanwood noted that it is important to be cautious about applying these findings to humans. Because addiction in humans is a complicated disorder, it is unlikely that all humans with drug addiction would respond in the same way to treatment with exendin-4.

While there are non-medical treatments for stimulant addiction, there have been no successful drug treatments, said Dr. Stanwood.

The results of this study may give other researchers a starting point to develop a medication to help patients fight addiction, he said.

"We don't expect this to be a magic bullet where one can simply take this drug and their addiction goes away, but hopefully a medication like this, in combination with social and behavioral support, will help an addict on the road to recovery," Dr. Stanwood concluded.

As Dr. Stanwood and colleagues pointed out, the results of this study cannot be applied to humans just yet. More research is needed to see if exendin-4 leads to the same results in humans. However, since the drug is already approved by the FDA, this means that one obstacle has already been eliminated.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The findings were published as the Letter to the Editor in the journal Molecular Psychiatry

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 23, 2012
Last Updated:
December 10, 2012