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Researchers at the University of the Pacific in Stockton announced this week that they have potentially discovered a new approach to reduce constipation for opioid users.

The newfound treatment will reduce constipation significantly while maintaining the pain relief effect of opioids, according to Dengpan Liang, a graduate student in the school’s pharmaceutical and chemical sciences program.

Constipation is one of the most common side effects of opioids.

Mamoun Alhamadsheh, associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, said 80 percent of people who use opioids — often due to chronic pain or cancer patients who need higher doses of the medication — can encounter severe constipation for weeks.

“That is terrible for cancer patients,” Alhamadsheh said in a news release. “Indeed, many of these patients often skip taking the medication because they don’t want to be in pain.”

Alhamadsheh is the professor leading the team of researchers who have been working for four years toward lowering the side effects of opioids use. He began his career at University of the Pacific in 2011.

“Indeed, many of these (cancer) patients often skip taking the medication because they don’t want to be in pain.”

Mamoun Alhamadsheh, associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry

Biopharmaceutics major Hala Aldawod, who has been on the team since the start of their research, said the researchers hit a turning point when they found that the opioid-receptors in the brain are largely responsible for opioid-induced constipation.

She said this new information contrasts the medical communities theory that constipation is caused by opioid receptors in the gastrointestinal tract.

Alhamadsheh said currently there are medications that treat the constipation problem, but they can interfere with the pain relief.

The team’s findings were recently published in Nature Communications, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and the research has moved into the next step of toxicity studies.

The university said there is potential for a clinical trial in a few years and the team is looking at possible impacts of their research beyond the project.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.