Home > All Posts, All things MAT, Family and Friends > FDA OKs Vivitrol to treat heroin, narcotic addictions – USATODAY.com

FDA OKs Vivitrol to treat heroin, narcotic addictions – USATODAY.com

FDA OKs Vivitrol to treat heroin, narcotic addictions – USATODAY.com.


FDA OKs Vivitrol to treat heroin, narcotic addictions

By Rita Rubin, USA TODAY

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment for addiction to heroin or prescription narcotic painkillers.

Vivitrol differs in two main ways from methadone and bupenorphrine (Suboxone), the two other drugs used to treat narcotic, or opioid, addiction. About 810,000 Americans are addicted to heroin, 1.85 million to opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says.

Vivitrol is injected monthly, not taken daily by mouth, so it’s easier to stick to. Though patients can obtain bupenorphrine at a pharmacy, they must go to clinics daily to get methadone. And, unlike methadone and bupenorphrine, Vivitrol isn’t an opioid but a long-acting form of naltrexone, which blocks opioids. “There are treatment programs that really oppose using methadone or bupenorphine,” says Nora Volkow, director of the drug abuse institute. “I predict that naltrexone may be acceptable.”

The FDA approved Vivitrol in 2006 for treating alcohol addiction. More than 45,000 people have been on it, some for more than four years, according to Alkermes, the Waltham, Mass., company that markets Vivitrol. Doctors can prescribe drugs “off-label,” but few have used Vivitrol, which lists for $1,100 per shot, to treat opioid addiction, Alkermes CEO Richard Pops says. “This is such a new market.”

The study that led to FDA approval of Vivitrol for opioid addiction involved 250 patients in Russia, the only other country in which it is approved for treating alcohol addiction. Russia has rejected methadone or bupenorphrine, Volkow says, leaving heroin “a major driver” of its HIV epidemic.

After six monthly shots, 70% of those who got Vivitrol hadn’t gone back to using narcotics — double the rate of patients who had received a placebo. “I was concerned that the patients would not go back for their monthly injections, but they did, which was surprising,” Volkow says. Also surprising, she says, was that Vivitrol reduced cravings for narcotics, for reasons that aren’t yet clear.

T.J. Voller, 29, of Westborough, Mass., tried bupenorphrine with “sporadic success.” By last December, he says, he cashed in his 401(k) and spent $17,000 on heroin in a month. He then found a doctor who’d give him Vivitrol. “It takes the cravings away,” says Voller, who has had eight shots and now works and attends college. “I’ve had (heroin) in front of my face and haven’t had the urge to do it. It shocked the hell out of me.”

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