The numbers surrounding opioid addiction in the United States are surprising and depressing at the same time. Almost two million people are abusing prescription opioid painkillers, while 14,000 people die every year from misusing these drugs. Prescription-filling of painkillers have risen from 2004 to 2012, while deaths from drug overdoses have risen from 2002 to 2014 and reached an all-time high.
The rise in opioid addiction has prompted many people to take action. President Obama, for example, has allotted more than $1 billion of the budget to fund the fight against heroin and opioid abuse, while several presidential candidates have given their opinion about the topic. Still, there’s one solution that many people have not learned or heard about, and it’s called naltrexone.
What is naltrexone?
Naltrexone is an FDA-approved drug that can treat dependence on opiates (which include heroin and morphine). It works by competing with opiates for the brain’s opioid receptors and blocking the effects of these drugs. It has been approved to help patients who are battling alcohol addiction.
Naltrexone can be taken orally, but experts have developed an extended-release version of the drug that must be injected to patients once a month. It’s considered to be better than other opiate addiction treatments (like methadone and buprenorphine) that need to be taken daily in pill form. Since it’s easier to stick a once-a-month injection appointment than to remember taking a pill every day, experts assume that those who opt for extended-release naltrexone can recover quickly and effectively from their opiate addiction.
Why naltrexone isn’t widely used
Naltrexone sounds like the miracle that many opiate-dependent patients need, so why isn’t it embraced by addiction rehabilitation facilities and used to treat many people? There are several reasons for this, and these include the following:
It’s a drug-based strategy
Many rehab centers focus on counseling patients and encouraging them to change their behavior, which is why they look down on using pharmacological means to treat addiction. But, while it’s certainly essential to modify patients’ approach to life, it’s important to note that not everyone responds well to behavior modification and that naltrexone may be helpful to those who don’t.
It may lead to overdose
Many experts are afraid that people who take naltrexone injections and then stop to go back to opiate abuse may be at higher risk of overdose. However, a recent study shows that this isn’t true and even demonstrates that naltrexone can help opiate-dependent patients who are eager to turn their lives around.
It can be expensive
Naltrexone certainly isn’t cheap, considering that it has to be refrigerated at all times and must be administered by trained personnel. But the cost seems to be worth it since it, aside from saving lives, it saves both the government and individuals a substantial amount in healthcare costs.
Should naltrexone use be encouraged?
The short answer seems to be “Yes”. It’s now up to addiction rehab experts to recommend the extended-release version of naltrexone to their patients. Opiate-dependent patients who want to get well should also ask their medical team to see if they’re qualified to receive monthly naltrexone injections.