Opioid antagonist  

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An opioid antagonist, or opioid receptor antagonist, is a receptor antagonist that acts on one or more of the opioid receptors.

Naloxone and naltrexone are commonly used opioid antagonist drugs which are competitive antagonists that bind to the opioid receptors with higher affinity than agonists but do not activate the receptors. This effectively blocks the receptor, preventing the body from responding to opioids and endorphins.

Some opioid antagonists are not pure antagonists but in fact do produce some weak opioid partial agonist effects, and can produce analgesic effects when administered in high doses to opioid-naive individuals. Examples of such compounds include nalorphine and levallorphan. However, the analgesic effects from these specific drugs are limited and tend to be accompanied by dysphoria, most likely due to additional agonist action at the κ-opioid receptor. As they induce opioid withdrawal effects in people who are taking, or have recently used, opioid full agonists, these drugs are generally considered to be antagonists for practical purposes.

The weak partial agonist effect can be useful for some purposes, and has previously been used for purposes such as long-term maintenance of former opioid addicts using nalorphine, however it can also have disadvantages such as worsening respiratory depression in patients who have overdosed on non-opioid sedatives such as alcohol or barbiturates. Naloxone on the other hand has no partial antagonist effects, and is in fact a partial inverse antagonist at μ-opioid receptors, and so is the preferred antidote drug for treating opioid overdose.

Naltrexone is also a partial inverse agonist, and this property is exploited in treatment of opioid addiction, as a sustained course of low-dose naltrexone can reverse the altered homeostasis which results from long-term abuse of opioid agonist drugs. This is the only treatment available which can reverse the long-term after effects of opioid addiction known as post acute withdrawal syndrome, which otherwise tends to produce symptoms such as depression and anxiety that may lead to eventual relapse. A course of low-dose naltrexone is thus often used as the final step in the treatment of opioid addiction after the patient has been weaned off the substitute agonist such as methadone or buprenorphine, in order to restore homeostasis and minimize the risk of post acute withdrawal syndrome once the maintenance agonist has been withdrawn.


List of opioid antagonists

The following are all μ-opioid receptor (MOR) antagonists or inverse agonists. Many of them also bind to the κ-opioid receptor (KOR) and/or δ-opioid receptor (DOR), where they variously behave as antagonists and/or agonists.

Centrally active

These drugs are used mainly as antidotes to reverse opioid overdose and in the treatment of alcohol dependence and opioid dependence (by blocking the effects, namely euphoria, of opioids so as to discourage abuse).


Diprenorphine is used in veterinary medicine only.

Discontinued or rarely used

Under development

Never marketed

Peripherally restricted

These drugs are used mainly in the treatment of opioid-induced constipation.


Under development currently or previously

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