Pharmacology Professor Works to Reverse Impact of Opioids on HIV

Jason Paris researches therapies for cognitive disorders caused by opioid use in patients

Jason Paris

OXFORD, Miss. – The opioid epidemic has reached new heights across the United States, becoming one of the nation’s leading causes of death. Though opioid abuse can be dangerous for anyone, those diagnosed with HIV can see increased adverse effects on their brain and nervous system.

Jason Paris, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, is working to combat opioids’ harmful effects on the HIV-infected brain with a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“The idea behind this grant is to find potential ways to target the damage caused by the central infection,” said Paris, who teaches in the Department of BioMolecular Sciences. “People who are dependent on opioids and are also HIV-positive are at risk for developing AIDS and have a quicker decline in brain health. We are working to find natural compounds that can reverse this.”

HIV infections and opioid abuse tend to be found together, since intravenous drug practices, such as those associated with heroin, can transmit the disease. Moreover, even HIV patients who don’t abuse drugs are more likely to experience chronic pain and be prescribed opioids.

This fact has researchers such as Paris looking for new therapies that can work with HIV medications to decrease some of the most negative effects of opioid use in those with the disease.

Since he joined Ole Miss over a year ago, Paris’ research has led to the discovery that the pain-relieving effects of opioids are sometimes less effective in those with HIV, meaning that those with the disease may use more opioids to relieve the same amount of pain as someone without HIV, potentially contributing to addiction. This research was published earlier this year in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

This phenomenon is due to one specific protein created by HIV. Fakhri Mahdi, a senior research and development biologist in the School of Pharmacy, works with Paris to research this protein’s interaction with morphine and identify natural products that may prevent the protein from blocking the pain relief.

“My interest in joining Dr. Paris’ laboratory was sparked by his enthusiasm for his research,” Mahdi said. “If we are successful, we may be able to identify a natural product that will protect those with HIV from increased opioid addiction.”

This grant is from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Award No. R00DA039791.