New Treatment Drug Decreases Desire for Meth, Researchers Say

By Zachary Siegel 05/21/15

Naltrexone is used to treat alcoholism and opioid addiction, now it’s being tried on methamphetamine users with promising results.

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A study conducted by UCLA researchers found that naltrexone, a drug used to treat alcoholism and opioid addiction, may also be effective in helping meth users shake their desire for the notoriously addictive stimulant.

The randomized double-blind experiment involved two groups consisting of 30 methamphetamine users who were randomly given naltrexone or placebo during a four-day hospital stint. The naltrexone group received a dose of 25 milligrams the first two days and a dose of 50 milligrams on days three and four. After 10 days, the participants were re-admitted for another four-day stint but the participant groups were switched—if you received naltrexone during the first four days you now received placebo and vice versa.

On the final day, both groups were given an intravenous dose (30 mg) of methamphetamine to test hypotheses that naltrexone would reduce both cue-induced methamphetamine craving and subjective responses to methamphetamine administration.

"The results were about as good as you could hope for," said Lara Ray, a UCLA associate professor of psychology and director of the UCLA Addictions Laboratory, in a press release.

Ray also said these results indicate naltrexone reduces the pleasurable effects of the drug and that users were much less likely to crave more of the stimulant.

Recent estimates on the prevalence of methamphetamine use show nearly 12 million have used the drug, and of that number 400,000 are addicted. As of now, there is no FDA-approved medication to help methamphetamine users fight their cravings.

This small pilot study shows promising results but further clinical trials are needed in order for naltrexone to be FDA-approved to treat methamphetamine addiction. Such trials are happening now and those are being funded by NIDA.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.