The Wonder Drug?
For sufferers of opioid addiction, the journey isn’t over when they get out of detox. Willpower alone is a fragile defence against monstrous cravings— more than 80 percent of users will relapse, studies suggest. But a new drug may improve those odds.
Vivitrol is a slowrelease version of the “opioid antagonist” naltrexone. It works by jamming the opioid pleasure receptors in the brain, so users are deprived of their expected high. But the drug has another benefit: it sharply diminishes cravings for opioids in the first place. While naltrexone therapy has been around for a while, it has drawbacks. Recovering addicts in Canada have to visit a pharmacy every day to get an oral dose of the drug, which eventually proves too much hassle for many rehabbing users.
Vivitrol’s slow release is the gamechanger. A single injection lasts up to a month,
making it much easier for users to comply with the treatment. A Russian test using the treatment in 2010 had such dramatic results, the FDA approved it for use in the United States on the basis of that study alone.
Canadian authorities have been more cautious. Last fall, St. Paul’s Hospital began the first clinical trial of Vivitrol in Canada, administering injections to 25 test subjects, all former heroin addicts. A positive outcome will likely nudge Canada closer to approving it for use here.
But while Vivitrol may be a promising step in addiction treatment, recent American trials suggest it should be considered a management strategy rather than a “cure.”
When Vivitrol was used to treat alcohol dependency, most users were able to cut down their drinking. But very few—under 10 percent—quit drinking outright.