With an estimated two and a half million Americans addicted to prescription opioids and heroin,medical intervention is increasingly important in responding to the epidemic.The most commonly prescribed treatment is buprenorphine - naloxone often administered to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation,however, it has opioidlike effects and the potential for abuse.In contrast, the drug naltrexone marketed as Vivitrol blocks the effects of opioids, but patients must be completely off opiates to start taking it.The two drugs are used in very different ways.
Naltrexone is a opiate blocker and so it’s used after people have gotten off opiates so-called after-detox and then want to maintain a opiate-free state using naltrexone to help them.And then buprenorphine is used in more of a maintenance model where people switch without fully detoxing from a unhealthy opioid say heroin to buprenorphine which can be taken on a daily basis and then maintained for months and months in terms of long-term recovery.
Joshua Lee and colleagues at New York University’s School of Medicine led a study to compare the two therapies.A group of 570 opioid dependent adults who were still trying to kick their heroin habit in detox were given either a daily oral dose of buprenorphine while in treatment or six-monthly injections of naltrexone after completing treatment.
Over the course then of six months, about the same amount of people that had started, did okay in terms of avoiding opiate relapse and kind of surviving on treatment doing reasonably well in terms of traditional outpatient opiate treatment goals.
One caveat, a full 25% of people scheduled to take naltrexone were not able to complete detox so weren’t able to get the shots while only 6% of the other study group were unable to start their daily dose of buprenorphine. The researchers hope they’re finding that the medications are equally safe and effective encourages clinics to expand their treatment offerings and save lives.
I’m Faith Lapidus, VOA News.