Opioid-based painkillers are normally based on extracts from the opium poppy, and are the most commonly used type of painkiller in the US. Codeine, methadone, hydrocodone, oxycodone, vicodin, morphine and heroin are all considered opioids, but besides their usefulness as painkillers they have one big drawback – their manufacturing is quite time consuming.
A batch of opioid drugs takes around one year to be produced – as the opium poppy needs to reach a certain degree of maturity before being able to provide the drug molecules needed in the manufacturing process. Adding to this is the fact that only certified farms are allowed to grow opioid poppy, due to the fact that it can also be used in the illegal production of narcotics.
However, this new study aims to bypass both of these drawbacks by eliminating the opium poppy from the process entirely and replacing with the most mundane of substances – baker’s yeast. Yeast is commonly used in the production of bread, beer and wine, but the study found out that manipulation of its genetic structure could turn it into a viable alternative to opium.
The study, which was done by a Stanford University team of researchers, shows that yeast can be reprogrammed to convert sugar into hydrocodone, one of the more powerful opioid substances, in a period between only three to five days. But this also comes with one major downside: in the current state of affairs, one dose of any kind of opioid painkiller would necessitate at least 4,400 gallons of genetically modified yeast to be produced.
This of course renders production at the current state highly impractical, but one interesting idea has risen from it: if the quantity of yeast becomes more accessible, but would still remain at a high level, this would discourage illicit homemade narcotic production once the processing technology eventually leaks.
However, this is not to say that it’s going to be purposely limited in terms of efficiency. Diminishing the role of the opium poppy in painkillers would be both time and cost effective, would probably make the medicine cheaper and it would also make it affordable in the large swaths of areas on the globe where populations don’t have access to it and find themselves needing to purchase illegal narcotics instead, providing the backbone for that market.
strong>Image Source: The Guardian