Researchers at the Stanford University's School of Medicine have found a new drug for inflammatory pain that is both non-addictive and doesn't increase risk of heart problems in patients.

Chronic pain sufferers face a tough choice between using pain relievers that are addictive or using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that increase cardiovascular disease risk.

Stanford researchers say that the compound Alda-1 is non-addictive and safe for the heart and gastrointestinal.

"Finding a new pain medication is important because we need a safer drug; there are 17,000 deaths from prescription opiate overdoses a year alone," said Daria Mochly-Rosen, professor of chemical and systems biology.

The researchers found the drug when they were trying to find why people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol have lower heart disease risk than others. They found that alcohol increases the activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, which is an enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde.

The team found that Alda-1, aldehyde dehydrogenase activator 1 doesn't just break toxic aldehydes in the body, but also acts as a painkiller.

The researchers knew that inflammation leads to a build-up of toxic aldehyde. However, they didn't know that aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, which breaks down these molecules, also regulates pain.

The scientists used mice and rat models to test the efficacy of the drug. They found that animals receiving the Alda-1 felt less pain, but displayed signs of chronic inflammation.

Mochly-Rosen and colleagues plan on conducting further research to see whether humans with different versions of the enzyme react differently to inflammatory pain. The current investigation, she says, highlights the importance of basic research.

"I'm not a pain expert, and pain was never a research focus of my lab," Mochly-Rosen said in a news release. "We focused our research on this enzyme for a completely different reason, and because we are in academia, we could follow a serendipitous finding and develop a new research interest. Hopefully, this finding will translate into helping people who have inflammatory pain."

The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.