Chronic pain. You can't live with it. And living without it is dangerous.
The United States is in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic - much of it initiated by chronic pain. On an average day in the U.S., 650,000 opioid prescriptions - such as Vicodin and Oxycontin - are dispensed, 580 people start using heroin, and 78 people die from an opioid overdose.
These 'addicts' are not all shiftless junkies. Many of them are average citizens - lawyers, cops, nurses - who turn to heroin when the painkillers their doctor prescribed become impossible to get. The U.S. has cracked down on doctors for over-prescribing opioids. But when patients - still in pain and now also sporting an addiction to painkillers - can no longer get pills, they sometimes turn to heroin in desperation. The US Department of Health and Human Services has named fighting this epidemic a top priority.
Ending this epidemic requires better treatments for chronic pain. And that's where chili peppers come in.
Capsaicin is the active component in chili peppers that makes them taste spicy. It is also an effective topical pain reliever. Centrexion Therapeutics has developed an injectable version of capsaicin, a drug called CNTX-4975, that shows promise for relieving the sort of nerve pain that leads sufferers directly to prescription painkillers - and all the secondary problems - addiction, overdose risk, and subsequent escalation to heroin - that come with them.