Dr. Everette Lee May, Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Virginia
Commonwealth University died on Aug. 9, 2008 at the age of 94. He was
born Aug. 1, 1914, in Timberville, Va., the son of Lee and Ida
Hinegardner May. At Bridgewater College, he lettered in football,
basketball and baseball, and majored in chemistry and minored in
mathematics. Dr. May went on to earn his doctorate at the University
of Virginia in 1939.
When scientists first began looking at drugs derived from opium
("opiates"), they were interested in identifying drugs that would be
good painkillers, but would not lead to patients' becoming addicted to
the drug -- a problem with codeine and morphine.
In 1929, Dr. Lyndon F. Small established the Drug Addiction
Laboratory, the ancestor of today's LMC. Seeking to create painkillers
which would not cause addiction, Small studied and modified the
morphine molecule and related opium products. This work was based on
the assumption that the drug's effects were directly related to its
molecular structure. Small's assumption proved correct. Metopon, a
potent opiate painkiller, was among his most notable contributions.
With metopon, partial separation of the painkilling effects from the
undesired addictive property was at last achieved. This finding was
the underpinning of much research that continues today into a total
separation of painkilling and addictive effects.
Dr. Nathan Eddy evaluated Small's compounds for their painkilling
effectiveness and potential to be addictive, and Dr. Clifton
Himmelsbach conducted the first clinical tests with these drugs in
human subjects. Early studies on metopon showed it produced a less
severe addiction than morphine and other opiates. This finding
encouraged scientists to hope that the addictive side effect could be
further separated from the painkilling action.
Dr. Everette May and Dr. Eddy worked to develop opiates that relieved
pain without the potential for abuse and to discover synthetic
substitutes for opiates--called opioids. Based on May's work on
benzomorphans, the drug pentazocine was introduced in the 1960s.
Pentazocine was the first drug used in clinical practice as a
painkiller which combined the pain-relieving effects of morphine with
the effects of opiate antidote. Such drugs are called mixed
agonists-antagonists because they produce some opiate effects while
blocking the opiate effects of other drugs. But pentazocine was not as
effective as morphine for severe pain, and produced hallucinations at
The drug buprenorphine was developed using the agonist-antagonist
construct. It is a promising drug for the detoxification of heroin
addicts because it produces less intensive withdrawal symptoms, is
relatively non-toxic, and can be used by outpatients. It is also being
studied as a therapy for individuals dependent on cocaine.