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According to the results of a new study published in The FASEB Journal, Belviq (lorcaserin)—a weight-loss drug that was recalled from the market last year (2020)—could make opioid addiction problems worse.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested the recall of Belviq and Belviq XR after a safety clinical trial showed that the drug was linked to a small increased risk of cancer.

Researchers Find Belviq Exacerbates Opioid Addiction Qualities

For the study, the scientists noted that while Belviq was initially approved for treating obesity, it was also being investigated as a treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs), including those involving opioids. Though the drug was withdrawn from the market over concerns of increased cancer risk, there was still an interest in potentially using it to treat SUDs.

The scientists conducted this study to explore any possible interactions between Belviq and other drugs, including opioids. They examined how the drugs collectively may affect receptors that provide pain relief (positive) and ventilatory depression (negative). Ventilatory depression is a breathing disorder caused by slow and ineffective breathing. It is a primary cause of death from an opioid overdose.

The scientists tested the drugs on animals. The results showed that lorcaserin (Belviq) reinforced the abuse-related effects of opioids. It did not have the same effect with morphine or fentanyl, but it did make the ventilatory-depressant effects of these two drugs worse.

“Taken together,” the scientists wrote, “these data indicate that lorcaserin does not improve an important therapeutic effect of opioids (pain relief) and might enhance adverse effects.”

Belviq Recalled Last Year Due to Potential Increased Risk of Cancer

The study may indicate that Belviq is not likely to be a solution for victims of SUDs anymore than it was for obese patients. It was approved in June 2012 for use in adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater (defined as obese), or adults with a BMI of 27 or greater (overweight) and who had at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, or high cholesterol.

At the time of the approval, the FDA required manufacturer Eisai Inc to conduct a clinical trial to evaluate the risk of heart-related problems. Eisai tested the drug in 12,000 participants who were overweight or obese and had established cardiovascular disease or had type-2 diabetes plus at least one additional cardiovascular risk factor and were over the age of 50.

The results showed no difference between the drug and the placebo when it came to major cardiovascular events. But there was a significant difference in cancer rates. A total of 7.7 percent of those treated with Belviq were diagnosed with cancer during the study, versus 7.1 percent of those taking the placebo. The longer the patients took the drug, the more of an imbalance there was.

These results led the FDA to request the withdrawal of the drug from the market in 2020. Since then, Eisai, Inc. and the original manufacturer, Arena Pharmaceuticals, have faced a growing number of Belviq lawsuits filed in courts nationwide.

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