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What to Know About Using Vivitrol/Naltrexone for Opioid Addiction

With the opioid crisis killing more than 130 people each day in the United States as a result of an overdose, researchers continue to seek new treatments that can help people struggling with addiction. The misuse and addiction to prescription pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl is a severe national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. Drug overdoses tied to opioids killed more Americans in 2016 than in the Vietnam war. All of the deaths have caused the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) to lower the life expectancy for the third year in a row in the United States. We have not seen this type of mass death in our lifetime, and implementing new strategies to deter drug use and help those struggling has become a top priority.

Fortunately, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, took the initiative and declared a national emergency to combat this crisis. More than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses since 2000, and Trump has mobilized his entire Administration to address opioids abuse by directing the declaration of a nationwide Public Health Emergency.

It has shaped how doctors prescribe the drugs now putting more of an emphasis on alternative solutions instead of jumping straight to the addictive painkillers. While it may not be the solution we need for those already addicted, it will be a long-term solution that saves hundreds of thousands more people from becoming addicted and dying.

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There have been a plethora of drugs geared toward helping individuals abstain long-term from opioids. One such drug, Vivitrol, can be used to help maintain abstinence while recovering from an opioid or alcohol dependence. The drug is available in an oral tablet form, but Vivitrol is typically administered as an intramuscular solution on a month by month basis. Those in treatment for an addiction to opioids must completely detox from these substances and maintain abstinence for seven to 10 days before starting Vivitrol. In the event someone lies or does not abstain as directed, the medication can elicit withdrawal symptoms and make the person very sick.

All forms of the drug work by stopping the euphoria and sedation that central nervous system (CNS) depressants such as alcohol or opioids cause.

The medication binds to the receptor sites in lieu of the substances and stays there for an extended period. When someone uses Vivitrol as prescribed and then relapses, the drugs will not bind to the opioid receptor sites.

As a result, there will be no high associated with the substances after detox.

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What Is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol is a non-addictive, once-monthly treatment proven to prevent relapse in opioid-dependent patients when used with counseling following detoxification. Vivitrol blocks opioid receptors in the brain while you work with psychological aspects of addiction. Medication-assisted treatment has been a breakthrough form of treating opiate addiction, and drugs like Vivitrol are promising to be more useful than other opioids used such as methadone.

When used in conjunction with a treatment plan that includes counseling, Vivitrol can prevent relapse to opioid dependence. On their website, the makers of Vivitrol highlight that during a six month, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical study, compared to opioid-dependent patients being treated with placebo and counseling (124), opioid-dependent patients being treated with Vivitrol and counseling (126) had 90 percent opioid-free weeks compared to the 35 percent receiving the placebo. There was also a 55 percent decrease in self-reported opioid cravings compared to three percent from placebo.

While the numbers are astonishing and show a possible breakthrough in treating dependence, the medicine is not without its share of side effects. The question that must be asked is if the benefits outweigh the risks? Let’s take a look at the most common Vivitrol side effects:

Side Effects

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness or nervousness
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle or joint pain

Possible, though less common, Vivitrol injections can cause reactions at the injection site, eosinophilic pneumonia, or liver toxicity. As we mentioned above, do the benefits outweigh the risks? It can be extremely beneficial for those working to manage their opioid addictions because it helps reduce cravings after the body has detoxed. Instead of using other opioids like methadone that require its own detox steps, there is no associated intoxication or abuse liability. It makes it a highly sought out medication for those battling opioid withdrawals.

Vivitrol for Opioid Addiction

Vivitrol was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010 to help people being treated for opioid addictions. It was initially known that the drug could provide relief for those struggling with an alcohol use disorder, but it was approved to help prevent opioid relapse after a study showed people who took the medication during rehabilitation stayed in the program longer and were more likely to remain abstinent and avoid relapse.

While it is beneficial in preventing relapse, you must complete a detox program and have no opioid left in the system before starting Vivitrol. The substance will remove opioids from the receptors, and if a person is undergoing medical detoxification, Vivitrol will stop the medicine from working and make withdrawal symptoms worse. It is an opioid-agonist, meaning it does not allow other drugs to bind to opioid receptor cells.

Although the drug stops endorphins from binding opioid receptors in people who consume alcohol, it also blocks opioid drugs from binding to opioid receptors in the brain. It can make Vivitrol treatment a much more effective option for opioid addiction because it helps to prevent relapse. Those who use Vivitrol in combination with counseling to treat their addiction have 90 percent opioid-free weeks compared to 35 percent who took the placebo. Those who used Vivitrol alongside treatment and continuing therapy were 17 times less likely to relapse compared to those who did not use Vivitrol.

How Can I Get Vivitrol?

Medical professionals who prescribed drugs like Vivitrol must go through extensive training before they can administer these drugs to their clients. There is a small number of doctors who go through training that do not see the benefit of Vivitrol in treating substance abuse. There is not a magic cure to end opioid dependence, but Vivitrol is a step in the right direction. As we discussed at the beginning of the article, opioid addiction has decimated our country and taken too many lives. One life is too many to lose, and nearing half a million has finally warranted the widespread use of these medications to treat this crisis.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to opioid drugs, it is time to consider Vivitrol treatment to help get your life back on track. While addiction may seem like a life sentence, it doesn’t have to be.

Sources

The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. (n.d.). from https://www.naabt.org/faq_answers.cfm?ID=5

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 22). Opioid Overdose Crisis. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

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