Can Vivitrol Be As Effective As Suboxone For Daily Treatment?

By Paul Gaita 10/20/17

A new study examined the short-term efficacy of the daily use of Vivitrol for those with opioid dependence.

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Researchers in Norway have released the results of a study that suggests that Vivitrol, a monthly injectable opioid antagonist, is as effective in helping to maintain short-term abstinence from opioid dependency as daily prescription treatments like Suboxone or methadone.  

A report on STAT News says the findings may prove beneficial for Alkermes Inc., which manufactures Vivitrol and has actively marketed its product to government agencies and medical professionals since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use for drug dependency in 2010.

However, many dependency specialists are looking for studies that will compare Vivitrol to Suboxone over a longer period of time as more conclusive evidence of its efficacy.

Vivitrol, which is an extended-release version of naltrexone, blocks the brain's opioid receptors, preventing the user from experiencing the euphoric effects of opioid drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers. Suboxone and methadone are opioid agonists, which bind to the brain's opioid receptors and can help relieve the craving and other symptoms that come with attempts to withdraw from opioid dependency.

Alkermes has suggested through its marketing campaign that Vivitrol is a more effective form of treatment than daily doses of Suboxone or methadone, though no substantive studies have proven this claim. Despite this, the drug has found support in state drug programs and with medical professionals across the country.

As of this past summer, there are about 450 drug treatment programs in 39 states that use Vivitrol, while sales have topped $58 million in 2017 alone.

For their study, the researchers divided 159 patients into two groups: one receiving treatment with Vivitrol and one receiving Suboxone, both for a period of three months. Patients in both groups were reported to have remained in the study for a little more than two months, but as STAT News noted, a third of the patients dropped out of the study prior to completion.

At the end of the test period, the researchers allegedly stated that there was little difference between the two groups in regard to patients that tested positive for drug use during the three-month time frame.

"The message is that there are two ways into rehabilitation of opioid- or heroin-dependent individuals," said study author Dr. Lars Tanum of the Norwegian Center for Addiction Research. "You can keep them on low-harm opioids, or give them opioid-blocking treatment."

While considering these results, dependency specialists are also looking to a test funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which will compare Vivitrol and Suboxone treatment in patients over a longer period of time. Those findings are expected in December 2017, while other similar studies are reportedly underway, according to STAT News.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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