College of Pharmacy Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences student Fatemeh Almasarweh won an award at the 7th annual Drug Abuse Research Symposium at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science on Aug. 17, 2012 for her presentation, “Hydrocodone containing prescription analgesics: What is the fuss all about?”

The conference, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), focused on the clinical and basic science aspects of drug addiction.

Almasarweh, working under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Arbi Nazarian, PhD, won a prize for the best presentation in her category for students and trainees. She competed against senior doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

“It was a good experience, seeing other people in the field talking about their research and getting to see some of the cutting-edge research going on in that industry,” she said.

She has given many presentations in her classes in front of peers and professors, but never at a conference such as this, Almasarweh said. This experience will help her gain confidence for future events, such as the upcoming Society for Neuroscience conference in October.

“I wanted her to participate in the conference,” Nazarian said. “I thought it was an excellent learning opportunity for her, not only in terms of presentation of the science, to have practice in front of experts, but also acquiring knowledge that was presented there.”

Almasarweh presented research conducted in Nazarian’s lab comparing the effects of two painkillers, Vicodin and morphine.

Vicodin, a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, is the most prescribed generic drug in the U.S, and there is a high rate of abuse for non-medical reasons because it’s as powerful as morphine but easier to obtain, Nazarian said.

Morphine is a class 2 drug. Vicodin is a class 3 drug. A morphine prescription cannot include refills, but a health care professional could write a prescription for Vicodin with as many as five refills.

Nazarian’s NIDA-funded research demonstrates that hydrocodone and morphine have similar rewarding effects.

“Ultimately we showed even though two drugs fall into different classes, both drugs have similar rewarding properties,” Nazarian said. “What this means is that, clinically speaking, there is a huge over-prescription of these painkillers. A lot of health care professionals who are able to prescribe pain medication prescribe Vicodin thinking it is less dangerous than morphine. Vicodin has as much rewarding effects, which means Vicodin and morphine can have similar abuse potential.”