Is Vivitrol the solution for the opioid crisis?
The opioid epidemic has been raging seemingly unabated for years, devastating families and communities across the country. The NIH (National Institute of Drug Abuse) reports that abuse and addiction to prescription pain medications, heroin and synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) are responsible for nearly 100 deaths daily in the US.
Now, enthusiasm is growing for a medication that can reduce cravings and prevent relapse. Called Vivitrol, this drug has been billed as a solution to the opioid crisis. The reality is more nuanced, but Vivitrol can be an effective part of a comprehensive opioid treatment plan.
What Makes Opioid Abuse So Challenging to Overcome?
The lack of accessible, adequate mental health resources and effective drug treatment options, has caused devastating consequences. Opioid addiction issues have become a public health crisis. Leading medical research agencies are trying to solve this crisis by discovering new and better ways to prevent opioid abuse, relapse, and manage pain.
Opioid abuse is a condition that is perpetuated by imbalances in brain chemistry and changes to brain neurocircuitry. Long-term use of opioids causes the brain’s reward circuitry to adapt to the presence of the drugs (either prescription opioids or heroin). This means that more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect as previously. Additionally, lack of opioid availability triggers a series of withdrawal symptoms.
These withdrawal symptoms are what make opioid abuse so challenging to overcome. Furthermore, people addicted to opioids develop powerful drug cravings that can seem impossible to control. These cravings and a desire to avoid withdrawal frequently lead to relapse, perpetuating the opioid addiction.
What Is Vivitrol?
Vivitrol is an FDA-approved medication designed to prevent relapse in patients addicted to opioids. Vivitrol is the brand name for an extended release, injectable version of naltrexone, which is also available in an oral form. Patients using Vivitrol receive monthly injections of the drug.
Vivitrol works as an opioid antagonist, meaning that it works in the opposite way as opioids. The drug crosses into the brain and actually clears opioid molecules from brain receptors, blocking the receptor sites. This prevents additional opioids from having an effect, as they cannot stimulate receptors in the brain.
Determining Whether Vivitrol is Right for You
Vivitrol has enormous potential to improve outcomes in people suffering from opioid abuse. Once a person has undergone a successful opioid detox and has been opioid-free for a week, the drug significantly reduces physical cravings. This, in turn, lowers risk of relapse. However, Vivitrol is not right for everyone. There are two major considerations when determining whether Vivitrol treatment is a good choice for you:
- Have you undergone detox? Detoxification clears remaining opioids from the body, ensuring that your system is “clean.” This is an essential step before taking Vivitrol. The opioid antagonist properties of this drug mean that it will swiftly clear remaining opioids from the receptor sites. If a person has not undergone a successful detox, this will lead to a swift onset of opioid withdrawal, which can be uncomfortable and even dangerous.
- Are you committed to being opioid-free? People taking Vivitrol must be strongly committed to an opioid-free lifestyle. Vivitrol actually helps with this by diminishing cravings. However, you will also have lower opioid tolerance after undergoing detox. That means that people taking Vivitrol who resume using opioids may be at higher risk of overdose, particularly if they take the same dose that used to get them high.
It is important to note that Vivitrol is not a cure for opioid addiction. It is, however, one tool that can be used as part of a comprehensive opioid treatment plan to prevent relapse.
Evaluating Vivitrol As a Potential Treatment for Opioid Abuse
The Waismann Method of Rapid Detox has successfully used the oral form of Vivitrol (naltrexone hydrochloride; brand name ReVia) for nearly 20 years. In fact, our use of naltrexone is one of the reasons that we have provided one of the most successful opioid detoxification programs in history. With the Waismann Method Opiate Detox Treatment, patients are admitted to a full-service, accredited hospital to undergo detoxification under medical supervision. Furthermore, patients also receive a comprehensive evaluation to create an individualized treatment protocol, which includes administration of naltrexone.
After 2-3 days in the inpatient hospital setting, patients that have undergone the rapid detox are fully detoxed and are ready to transition into our specialized recovery center. This allows their brain chemistry to become regulated and stabilized, promoting a successful treatment outcome. After one week or more on oral naltrexone, patients are more physically and emotionally stable to make future decisions. At this point, they can determine whether to proceed with the monthly Vivitrol shot.
As the Waismann Method of Rapid Detox illustrates, Vivitrol is not a magic solution to the opioid crisis. However, it can be an essential and beneficial tool as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Time will tell whether greater accessibility to Vivitrol will reduce the number of people affected by the opioid crisis.