With the United States in the grips of an opioid crisis, researchers and scientists are seeking solutions. One of the latest developments is a naltrexone implant that can reduce opioid cravings and place addicts on the path to recovery.
Below, we’ll discuss the basics of the naltrexone implant, including FDA approval, side effects, and promising preliminary research on the device.
What Is Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat addiction to both alcohol and opioids.
The medication works to block opioid receptors, mitigating the euphoric effects of substances like prescription painkillers and heroin. As a result, opioid cravings are reduced.
Naltrexone does not treat withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, agitation, abdominal pain, muscle cramps, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or sleep disturbances. But because it diminishes cravings, it becomes easier to begin working toward full recovery.
Unlike other medications that treat opioid addiction, naltrexone will not cause addiction or physical dependency.
However, it’s important to note that it will result in reduced tolerance for opioids. If someone who is using naltrexone relapses with the amount of opioids used previously, this dosage could prove fatal. If an individual attempts to take large amounts of opioids to overcome naltrexone’s blocking effect, this could also result in serious injury, coma, or death.
Naltrexone should be used in combination with other forms of treatment (therapy, social support groups) and by someone who is genuinely motivated to recover.
What Forms of Naltrexone Are Available?
Naltrexone comes in a pill, an injectable, and—most recently—an implant. The pill form comes in brands such as ReVia and Depade, and it can be taken at 50 mg daily. However, many individuals who use drugs either forget to take the medication daily or intentionally don’t take the pill in order to achieve the high they crave.
Because oral naltrexone had not been particularly successful, efforts were made to develop sustained release technologies that could decrease compliance problems. Three decades later, there are two types of sustained release technology: injectable intramuscular suspension and surgically implantable pellets.
The injectable extended-release form of naltrexone is called Vivitrol. It’s administered once monthly at 380 mg and must be used with other recovery programs such as counseling. Before starting Vivitrol, patients must be opioid-free for a minimum of 7-14 days. Otherwise, sudden opioid withdrawal may occur.
The naltrexone implant is a small biodegradable pellet that is inserted under the skin, typically in the lower abdomen region. This is a simple procedure that generally takes 15-20 minutes and may require 2-3 stitches.
Over a set period of time—usually 2-6 months—the implant slowly releases naltrexone into the bloodstream. As a result, clients experience reduced cravings, improved moods, and better sleep.
Is the Naltrexone Implant FDA Approved?
Although the pill and injectable forms of Naltrexone are FDA approved, the latest implant is under FDA approval. However, it looks promising as a future treatment for opioid addiction. The implant has been used with success in Europe and Australia.
Additionally, the FDA approved the first-ever implant for opioid treatment in 2016. Called the Probuphine device, the implant contains the medication buprenorphine. This indicates approval of the naltrexone implant is certainly possible in the near future.
How Effective Is the Naltrexone Implant?
Preliminary research suggests that naltrexone implants are an effective tool for recovering from opioid addiction. In some cases, it’s been reported that patients feel reduced cravings mere hours after implantation.
In a Norwegian study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 56 patients at an addiction center were given the naltrexone implant to treat heroin dependence. Study participants who used the implant for 180 days averaged 45 fewer days of heroin use than members of the control group (and 60 fewer days of opioid use).
Across nine research studies comparing naltrexone implant treatment to oral naltrexone or a placebo, implants were found to be significantly more effective than both no treatment and treatment via oral naltrexone.
This research suggests that naltrexone implants give recovering addicts more stability in recovery, but further research is needed.
Does Naltrexone Have Side Effects?
Naltrexone does have some side effects, including:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Joint or muscle pains
- Problems with sleep
The implant in particular can cause irritation, inflammation, or infection. And if the individual hasn’t completely detoxed prior to implantation, it can cause opioid withdrawal symptoms.
The naltrexone implant appears to be more effective than both treatment without medication and treatment with oral naltrexone. Compliance issues are common with oral naltrexone, and the naltrexone implant’s sustained release eliminates this problem. Like other forms of naltrexone, using the implant won’t lead to addiction or physical dependency.
There’s no predicting the future, but the naltrexone implant could potentially be a powerful weapon in the fight against the opioid crisis.
To find out if you are a candidate for the Naltrexone implant call one of our specialists today at 1-888-349-2590 or click here.