Opioid death investigations

The aim of these studies is to elucidate the pathophysiological and pharmacological mechanisms behind opiate toxicity. Opioids are potent painkillers, and therefore extensively used to treat severe pain. However, opioids are also widely abused due to their reinforcing effects. Due to substantial tolerance development, opioid users have to gradually increase the dose to achieve pain relief or euphoria, and this increases the risk of respiratory depression. However, the time frame for development and loss of tolerance for the different effects conveyed by opioids are not fully characterized. We are using genomic, structural and biochemical methods to study opioid tolerance and toxicity mechanisms. In particular we want to elucidate the pathophysiology behind opioid-induced respiratory depression and lung edema. A large majority of the victims of acute opioid toxicity death show massive lung edema and froth in the airways at autopsy, but these features are rarely seen in subjects who survive to the emergency departments, suggesting a very rapid course.

PI: Lydia Bennedich Kahn, Lydia.bennedich@ki.se