Will These New Tools Help to Fight Opioid Addiction?

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With 78 Americans dying every day from opioid overdose, there’s no question that our country is in the midst of an epidemic.

But the good news is that there’s hope on the horizon.

Help is on the Way

In May of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Probuphine, the first buprenorphine implant for the maintenance treatment of opioid dependence – a treatment that is being hailed as a “game changer” in the industry.

Probuphine consists of four, one-inch long rods that are implanted under the skin in the upper arm. For six months, it provides a constant, low-level dose of buprenorphine to patients who are already stable on low-to-moderate doses of other forms of buprenorphine as part of a complete treatment program that includes counseling and psycho-social support.

Until this development, buprenorphine was only approved as a pill or film placed under the tongue or the inside of a person’s cheek until dissolved. As an implant, however, Probuphine provides a new treatment option for people who may value the convenience of a six-month implant, as it prevents users from having to remember take medication on a daily basis.

Here’s Another Option

The second option for fighting opiate addiction comes in the form of a vaccine. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute recently developed an experimental vaccine that appears to significantly lower the risk of an overdose from prescription opioids.

Using laboratory mice, the researchers found that the opioid vaccine triggers an immune system response when two widely used painkillers – hydrocodone and oxycodone – are detected. As a result, the immune system releases antibodies to seek out the opioids, which then bind to the drugs’ molecules and removes them from circulation. Essentially, the vaccine stops the drug before it even gets to the brain, preventing that person from feeling the “reward” or euphoric high of consuming the drug.

In further tests, the rodents also appeared less susceptible to fatal overdose, as the researchers found that it took much longer for the drug to impart its toxicity. If this effect holds true in humans, the researchers believe the vaccine could extend the window of time to seek emergency assistance if an overdose does occur.

Currently, opioid addiction treatment relies on other opioids, such as methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone) to relieve withdrawal cravings for opioids. Thus, this vaccine is a novel approach in combating the opioid epidemic since it does not alter brain chemistry of any kind.

Image Source: iStock

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