Can a Weight-Loss Drug be Used to Combat Drug Addiction?

doctor with woman patient using weight-loss drug

Contributed by:  Staff of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

There is no silver bullet to treat addiction. If there were, the United States wouldn’t be experiencing opioid deaths at epidemic-level proportions, with heroin and prescription opioids causing more than 33,000 deaths in 2015 alone [1]. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified this as a significant problem in the United States. In fact, just recently it was reported that the CDC had awarded more than $28 million, in addition to the $12 million it announced it would provide in July 2017, to assist states in strengthening prevention efforts and better tracking opioid-related overdoses. [2].

Weight-Loss Drug to Combat Drug Addiction

Researchers are also taking this epidemic seriously. A study published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, and executed by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, has examined whether or not the FDA-approved weight-loss drug lorcaserin can be useful in the treatment of opiate addiction and found positive result [3]. The study was predicated on the previous knowledge that people become addicted to opiates because of the euphoric feelings it gives them and that the environment where a person uses drugs can become a trigger that conditions them to use again when back in those surroundings. This conditioning is known as cue reactivity and often results in users relapsing [4].

Woman in hat struggling with heroin addiction and opioid deathsRats in the study that were given lorcaserin were found to self-administer less oxycodone and react less to potentially triggering cues, providing evidence to the fact that lorcaserin may reduce drug-seeking and craving [3]. Another study, which is being led by the psychiatry department at Boston Medical Center and supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is researching whether cocaine addiction could also be treated with Lorcaserin a weight-loss drug. However, this study is using human subjects [5].

The study, which began in June 2017, followed 24 subjects that were given either lorcaserin or a placebo for 12 weeks. Participants were also receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, the current standard treatment for cocaine addiction [5].

Researchers noted that providing this standard care is essential, stating, “we’d like to see everyone get better because they’re getting behavioral care, but maybe the people on the medication will get a little better than those on the placebo [5].” Researchers hope that the results seen in treating opiate use with lorcaserin will also occur with cocaine use.

Results of the Study

However, even if the results affirmed this, the study’s lead researcher, Eric Devine, Ph.D., notes that the weight-loss drug, Lorcaserin, would not be “prescribed to treat cocaine addiction for an extended period of time” and that it may take 2 years before research definitively shows whether or not the drug helps in reducing or ending cocaine use. The same is likely true for opiate use.

While researchers continue to work hard at finding ways to assist in addiction recovery, it is crucial that all other areas do the same. America’s issues with drug addiction are impacted by all areas, whether it be the education system or politics. Everyone must join in the fight to fix the entire system, ensuring that addiction does not have the last word and that lives are saved.


[1]: [1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Opioid overdose. Retrieved on 05 October 2017 from
[2] CDC Newsroom (2017). CDC awards $28 million to help states fight opioid overdose epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on 05 October 2017 from
[3] Neelakantan, H. et al. (2017). Lorcaserin suppresses oxycodone self-administration and relapse vulnerability in rats. ACS Chemical Neuroscience, 8:5, 1065-1073.
[4] Wallace, A. (2017). Prescription weight-loss drug may help with opioid addiction. United Press International, Inc. Retrieved on 06 October from
[5] Areas-Holmblad (2017). A weight-loss drug may be the newest tool to treat cocaine addiction. Addiction Now. Retrieved on 04 October 2017 from

Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

Timberline Knolls is a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls, ages 12 and older, with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also available in nearby Orland Park, Ill., for women to step down or direct admit. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 630-755-5173. We are also on Facebook – Timberline Knolls, LinkedIn – Timberline Knolls and Twitter – @TimberlineToday.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 7, 2017
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.