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CBS: “breakthrough” on supposed opioid alternative not even tested in humans yet

Gary Schwitzer is the Publisher and founder of  He tweets as @garyschwitzer.

The CBS Morning News packed so much hyperbolic punch into one piece, it was breathtaking.  They promoted the piece as “only seen on CBS This Morning,” and thank goodness for that.


Keep in mind that the story admitted that the compound hasn’t been tested in humans yet.  In that context, let these claims soak in:

  1. The story referred to the work as “breakthrough” and “revolutionary.”
  2. “…could be a big step forward in dealing with the growing opioid crisis”
  3. “It works by clinging to a different receptor in the central nervous system than opioids, eliminating the narcotic high, abuse and dependence risks.” It works in what?  Not people yet.
  4. “Several other biotech companies, as well as researchers at universities, are working to develop similar drugs, with different approaches.”  So will CBS provide free air time for all of those other biotech companies?  If not, why not?

It is important for journalists to track research progress in the midst of the opioid crisis.  But journalists who don’t report on these issues full-time should not be allowed by their editors and managers to run up to the winding stream of science, dip their toes in, and then run back and file a breakthrough story with no regard for the downstream work of science to get from here to there with such wild claims.  The decades-long boulevard of broken dreams of past attempts to develop painkiller alternatives cannot be forgotten.  Many looked great early in the research.  The mechanism made sense, building on what’s known about pain pathways.  Some continued to look terrific in animal research.  And then the human trials delivered the bad news.

“It could be five years or so before the drug makes it through clinical trials to see if they confirm its claims.”  So this story was free publicity five years too early.

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