March 30, 2016 -- It’s been called a magic shot or miracle drug for opioid addiction.
The medication, a once-monthly injection called Vivitrol, appears to cut the risk of relapse in half, at least while people get the shots.
“I think this deserves a lot of attention,” said Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health, who presented the results of a new study on Vivitrol Tuesday at the National Rx Drug and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. The study pitted the drug against other kinds of medications that treat addiction to opioids.
The new study was conducted in an especially vulnerable group: opioid addicts who had recently been released from prison. But Collins says “it adds another powerful option” for addicts that certainly could be used in other treatment settings, too.
“I would think also that this would be a potentially important moment for rehabilitation facilities to think about this. Not just for people who are being released from jail, but for people who have been in a rehab facility going through a program where they have ultimately ended up abstinent and wanted to stay that way on release, this would seem like a powerful option,” he said.
About 2.6 million people in the U.S. are addicted to opioids, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Since 2001, the number of people who have fatally overdosed on prescription opioids has more than tripled, and the number of people who have died from heroin overdoses has increased more than 600%.
Vivitrol, a long-acting version of the medication naltrexone, isn’t without side effects. And it’s expensive. Although the drug has been FDA approved to treat opioid addiction since 2010, it hasn’t been widely used. Collins said he thought cost was the biggest reason.
“There’s sticker shock when you tell people it costs $1,200 per month, but that’s basically what we’re paying for hepatitis C, HIV, and other behavioral health maintenance medications,” said Joshua Lee, MD, an associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York University Langone Medical Center and lead researcher of the study, which was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.