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New Prescriptions for Addiction Treatment

New prescriptions are making it easier to kick old drug addiction habits and stay clean.


In addition, he says, because the drug has a built-in "ceiling effect" -- meaning that increasing the dosage will not enhance the satiation effects -- it becomes virtually impossible for addicts to abuse. And that, he says, makes it safer to prescribe without risk of overdose.

While Suboxone is fast proving successful -- one clinic boasts an 88% success rate after six months of treatment compared with just 50% for methadone -- not everyone has equal success. For some addicts the effects are simply not strong enough to cut the craving, while for others, side effects including headache, withdrawal syndrome, pain, nausea, and sweating can make treatment difficult. Still, experts say for most who try it, it offers the promise of treatment success with far fewer problems.

Addiction Treatment: Treating Alcoholism the New Way

Some experts believe that one of the factors responsible for the success of Suboxone lies not only in the power of the primary drug, but also in a second compound contained in this drug -- a medication known as naloxone. A powerful anti-addiction drug in its own right, naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, has also become a mainstay in the modern treatment of alcohol addiction. In fact, it's one of just two medications approved by the FDA for this purpose.

"When used in alcohol addiction, naloxone reduces cravings and diminishes the length of time alcohol is used while increasing the length of time an abstinent person might remain abstinent, " says Marc Galanter, MD, director of the division of alcohol and substance abuse at NYU Medical Center/Bellevue in New York.

Now joining naloxone in the fight is the drug Campral, approved by the FDA in August 2004. Galanter says it works much the same way as naloxone to stimulate the reward centers of the brain -- in this instance, by elevating levels of a brain chemical known as GABA. This, he says, reduces the need for alcohol without activating the numbing effects patients normally get from drinking.

"Research has shown that if you give [Campral] and naloxone together you can get an even better and more enhanced effect with somewhat better outcomes," says Galanter. Though not specifically approved for the use of alcohol addiction, Galanter adds that at least two other medications are being used effectively -- the epilepsy drug Topamax and the muscle relaxant Baclofen. Both are also undergoing testing as treatments for addiction to cocaine, heroin, and other opiates as well.

The Cutting Edge: The Addiction Vaccine

Experts say one reason almost any kind of drug addiction maintains such a strong hold on its victim has to do with not only the direct effects on the body, but also the somewhat indelible impression these substances make on our brain.

More specifically, imaging tests show that when exposure to drugs occurs with any kind of consistency, certain environmental and emotional cues associated with drug use become encoded in our psyche -- so much so that for some folks undergoing addiction treatment, even limited exposure to those original cues can activate a craving that causes a relapse. This, say experts, is particularly true of cocaine addiction, where the risk of falling off the treatment wagon can be quite high.

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