Could the answer to America’s opioid epidemic be hidden in the open fields of North Texas?

Researchers in Denton say they have discovered a plant native to Texas with the same pain-relieving properties as some of the most powerful pills on the market – but without the harmful side effects.

The green and white leaves give this plant its name: Snow on the Prairie.

Botanist Camelia Maier is one of the first scientists ever to study the plant. She says native Americans once used Snow on the Prairie as a pain reliever. And since many modern medicines, including opioids, are derived from plants, she teamed up with TWU Neuroscientist Dr. Dayna Averitt – whose recent work with a similar plant is now in trials as a cancer pain drug.

Together, they have discovered a chemical inside the plant, that when used on tissue samples from animals, immediately stopped pain signals at the source of an injury – unlike opioids, which change the chemistry of the brain.

“So if you have an injury such as a burn on your arm, if you can target those signals before they even get into the brain, then you don’t have to treat the brain. You don’t have the negative side effects that are associated with targeting the brain,” Averitt says.

It’s promising work, but miles from completion. The plant must be harvested carefully because it is toxic.

But the duo is hopeful a safer option for millions of Americans living in pain is, in fact, hiding in plain sight.