Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that’s responsible for alcohol and drug addiction treatment, has been used successfully to treat opiate addiction. It blocks the opiate receptors in the brain, so that opiate addicts can no longer feel the euphoric effects – the “high” – from taking heroin or other opiates. When used properly, naltrexone can prevent relapse during drug addiction treatment.
However, it can be difficult to get opiate addicts to use this drug properly during treatment. The naltrexone pill needs to be taken daily, and most opiate addicts with either forget to take their pill, or will purposely not take it in order to get high again. Monthly naltrexone injections, marketed as Vivitrol and administered by health care professionals at drug addiction treatment facilities, can help resolve issues with compliance. Though it’s not yet been approved by the FDA, a naltrexone implant is available that needs to be replaced every two to six months.
Why Use Naltrexone for Drug Addiction Treatment?
Naltrexone is different from Suboxone or Subutex, two opiate maintenance medications that contain buprenorphine, and methadone, an older, more potent opiate maintenance medication. These medications work by stimulating the opiate receptors to relieve withdrawal symptoms. They help patients avoid acute withdrawal syndrome and hop off the roller coaster of intoxicating and dope sickness that keeps them from functioning and living a normal life. Buprenorphine and methadone are appropriate for many patients going through drug addiction treatment.
However, there’s a concern that these drugs merely “substitute one addiction for another.” For this reason, some workplaces and judicial systems may require opiate addicts to abstain entirely from opiate drugs, even those intended for the treatment of withdrawal symptoms. Some opiate addicts may desire, for personal reasons, to achieve abstinence right away. People working the 12-Steps may be encouraged to abstain entirely from drugs, even maintenance medications.
Drawbacks of Naltrexone
If you’re in a stable position financially and socially, with a solid social support system and motivation to quit, naltrexone may be a good option for you. But naltrexone is not without its drawbacks, and it may not be right for everyone – indeed, drug addiction treatment with naltrexone may not be right for most opiate addicts.
Naltrexone does stop you from getting high if you use heroin or other opiates, but it doesn’t stop the psychological cravings for the drug. That’s why, if you decide to go with naltrexone, it’s a good idea to choose the monthly injection or an implant. If you’re like most opiate addicts who’ve tried naltrexone for drug addiction treatment, you’re going to lose your motivation to take a daily pill pretty quickly. A monthly injection means you only have to summon the motivation to get your medication once a month, rather than every day.
The naltrexone implant for drug addiction treatment makes it even easier – you only have to show up once every two to six months to get your implant. In a Russian study of the effectiveness of the implant, 53 percent of opiate addicts who received the implant avoided relapse and stayed in treatment during the study period. It’s recommended that you use the implant for at least a year, and it’s no substitute for addiction counseling. You’re still going to need intensive outpatient therapy in the form of one-on-one counseling and group therapy for at least a year or longer.
The naltrexone implant is inserted directly under the skin of the lower abdomen. The incision is tiny – it requires only one or two stitches to close. The implant releases a steady stream of naltrexone into your blood. Every few months, you’ll need to return to the doctor and get your implant replaced. The old implant doesn’t need to be removed; it’s made of biodegradable materials that absorb into your body.
Side effects and complications of the naltrexone implant for drug addiction treatment include irritation and infection at the site of the implant. In the Russian study, some of the addicts who received the implant experienced scar tissue growth around it, which may have prevented the release of the medication into the bloodstream. Some of these patients experienced relapse.
It’s also possible to overdose while taking naltrexone. If you take huge doses of opiates in an attempt to “override” your naltrexone therapy, you could experience overdose. You’ll also be at an increased risk of overdose if you relapse after stopping the therapy.
Opiate addiction is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment. Whether you decide to go with maintenance therapy or total abstinence, the sooner you get treatment, the better.
Call FHE Health today at 844-299-0618 to learn more.