The Food and Drug Administration just approved Naltrexone for the treatment of opiate addiction. Naltrexone for drug addiction is available as a slow release injection and is sold as Vivitrol. Naltrexone has been shown in one study to help individuals who have been addicted to narcotics like morphine, meperidine and oxycontin.
How Vivitrol works is not fully understood but it is believed that the drug blocks the morphine receptors in the brain. By blocking these opiate receptors, the drug diminishes the craving effects for opiates.
What is odd is that the FDA approved the use of Vivitrol after analyzing data from a single controlled study from Russia. The Russian investigators discovered that Vivitrol was nearly 50 percent more effective than placebo in keeping opiate addicts drug-free for at least 120 days.
Naltrexone is by no means a new drug and has been available for more than 30 years. Naltrexone has been used by some physicians to treat alcohol dependence. The usual treatment is one 50 mg tablet per day. However, for alcohol addiction, naltrexone only works in certain individuals who have a certain genetic variation of the opioid receptor.
For treatment of opiate addiction, only the long acting formula of the drug is useful. The oral pill even though widely used, has not been shown to have any beneficial effect. The other problem with the oral pill is that many addicts simply stop taking it and return to their addiction.
There are also a variety of slow release Naltrexone implants available but these have not yet been approved for clinical use in the USA.
Naltrexone is widely used in Europe and Australia as a long-term treatment protocol for treatment of opiate addiction; the drug only treats the physical dependence of opioids. Naltrexone is not the sole treatment for opiate addiction and must be combined with other psychological and behavior interventions to help maintain abstinence.
While Naltrexone is much safer and has fewer side effects than most past medications, it is also very expensive. The single injection, which lasts a month, is over $1000 and most people require treatment for one to two years.