The combination of metyrapone and oxazepam for the treatment of cocaine and other drug addictions


Although scientists have been investigating the neurobiology of psychomotor stimulant reward for many decades, there is still no FDA-approved treatment for cocaine or methamphetamine abuse. Research in our laboratory has focused on the relationship between stress, the subsequent activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and psychomotor stimulant reinforcement for almost 30 years. This research has led to the development of a combination of low doses of the cortisol synthesis inhibitor, metyrapone, and the benzodiazepine, oxazepam, as a potential pharmacological treatment for cocaine and other substance use disorders. In fact, we have conducted a pilot clinical trial that demonstrated that this combination can reduce cocaine craving and cocaine use. Our initial hypothesis underlying this effect was that the combination of metyrapone and oxazepam reduced cocaine seeking and taking by decreasing activity within the HPA axis. Even so, doses of the metyrapone and oxazepam combination that consistently reduced cocaine taking and seeking did not reliably alter plasma corticosterone (or cortisol in the pilot clinical trial). Furthermore, subsequent research has demonstrated that this drug combination is effective in adrenalectomized rats, suggesting that these effects must be mediated above the level of the adrenal gland. Our evolving hypothesis is that the combination of metyrapone and oxazepam produces its effects by increasing the levels of neuroactive steroids, most notably tetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone, in the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala. Additional research will be necessary to confirm this hypothesis and may lead to the development of improved and specific pharmacotherapies for the treatment of psychomotor stimulant use.

in Advances in Pharmacology, vol 69