Dr Brian M Cox - 2000

“1965 - 1975: A Renaissance Decade in Opiate Research”

Dr Brian M. Cox
Department of Pharmacology
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences 
Bethesda, MD, USA


The INRC was founded in 1969 in the midst of a decade of explosive growth in opiate drug research. Prior to the early 1960s, studies on opiate drug pharmacology were mainly of interest to neuropharmacologists devoted to finding new drugs for the treatment of pain. The majority of neuroscientists in this era (a small group by current standards) spent little time on opiates. During the ten years, 1965-1975, methadone maintenance therapy and other new approaches to the treatment of heroin addition were developed, and tentative steps towards our current understanding of the mechanisms of tolerance and dependence were made. Fentanyl, a novel potent opiate drug that has had a major impact on anesthetic practice was introduced, and naloxone, the first opiate antagonist without direct aversive activity, became available for the treatment of opiate drug overdose. During the same decade, it first became possible to measure binding of opiate drugs to their receptors and to picture the distribution of these receptors within the CNS. Receptors moved from being figments of the pharmacologist’s imagination to quantifiable entities that could be related to pharmacologic actions, thus opening many avenues of research. The decade ended with the discovery of the endogenous opioid peptides and the sequencing of the enkephalins. These discoveries transformed our understanding of opiate drug actions and placed opioid researchers among those driving the expansion of neuroscience research over the following decade. INRC provided a unique forum for the presentation of many of these discoveries and a focus for the growth of research in this area.

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