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See Inside April 2005

A Toxin against Pain

For years, scientists have promised a new wave of drugs derived from sea life. A recently approved analgesic that is a synthetic version of a snail toxin has become one of the first marine pharmaceuticals

The past 18 months were very good ones for hypnotists, yoga teachers and acupuncturists. For many chronic pain sufferers, promises of relief from various forms of alternative medicine seemed like rational options amid the unending stream of negative reports about Vioxx, Celebrex, Aleve and Rush Limbaugh's addiction to painkillers.

Not all was lost for patients who prefer medicine to meditation. With little fanfare, the Food and Drug Administration approved in late December two new drugs intended to treat a form of pain that often proves resistant to anti-inflammatories and opiates--the two predominant classes of pharmaceuticals for analgesia. Medical specialists welcomed their arrival. "It's an embarrassment that we're treating pain with opiates and aspirinlike compounds," notes Edwin McCleskey of the Oregon Health and Sciences University. "Opiates are more than 2,000 years old, and aspirin is nearly 200 years old."

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