Pharmaceutical companies are working on an injectable form of a medication that can help reduce cravings for drugs and alcohol. Vivitrol is an expensive medication, but it may prove to have widespread benefits.
Cut the Cravings
Vivitrol is an extended-release injectable suspension of the drug naltrexone. This drug in pill form has been used to stop cravings for drugs and alcohol by taking the pleasure away from using these substances. Pills are easy to forget to take, so the injectable form is being studied now, with the hopes that it will be more effective. “What would happen is that people stop taking the pill because they often either had forgotten or they didn’t want to take the pill – there were some side effects, some nausea and things like that – but more likely than not it was because they just maybe weren’t totally committed,” said Dr. Ken Bachrach, the director of a treatment center that used the pills. (1) When an opioid addict or alcoholic is given a shot of Vivitrol, it blocks nervous system receptors that are affected by alcohol and drugs like heroin, which in essence blocks the reward pathway for the substances.
Keeping Addicts Out of Jail
L.A. County, which spends more than $10 billion a year on costs associated with alcohol, is setting aside $3.4 million to pay for Vivitrol at its clinics. They are hoping to break the cycle of addiction, rehab, and relapse that so often haunts opioid users and alcoholics.
The makers of Vivitrol, Alkermes Pharmaceuticals, is conducting a small pilot study on inmates who have a history of opioid addiction. These inmates will receive an injection of Vivitrol one week before they are scheduled to be released back into the community, and once a month after that for 6 months. They will track these individuals and evaluate if Vivitrol helps keep them out of the criminal justice system by keeping them away from drugs once they are home.
An Expensive Drug
Not everyone is sold on the idea of Vivitrol. First of all, it is expensive – $800 per dose. Secondly, it is not always effective. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that Vivitrol truly makes a difference in just 10% of cases. Vivitrol also cannot be expected to cure someone of drug or alcohol abuse alone. Counseling is still necessary, as well as long term interaction in a 12 Step program or support group.
Many people, such as authorities in L.A. County, are willing to take their chances with this drug. By spending the money up front to get addicts help, they expect to pay less in the long run to treat these patients in emergency rooms and rehab clinics over and over. The cost of giving an inmate 6 months of Vivitrol injections is also less then the $29,000 to keep them in jail for a year.
It is important to note, however, that the success rate of Vivitrol will be much greater if the patient also goes through therapy and support groups. There is no quick fix to addiction, and while an injection can help jump start someone’s recovery, counseling and long term care is necessary for real lasting success.