Drug implants like Naltrexone and Buprenorphine are designed to block the effects of opioids for weeks or even months. But, are these drugs more like a magic bullet, or dangerous experiment?
Well, if you or your loved one is struggling with an addiction problem, you likely are trying to find ways to put the issue behind you. After all, drug addiction is a significant concern and has the potential to impact your mental, physical, emotional, and financial wellness.
So, like any other person on the receiving end, you may be open to any treatment as long as it helps you regain control. However, you should be smart in your approach to ensure you make an informed decision.
In this article, we will look at drug implants, how they work, their upsides and downsides, efficacy, FDA approval, and everything else that you need to know about them.
Addiction is a disease that can’t be cured. But it can be managed successfully with abstinence. As we mentioned earlier, addiction can have significant mental and physical impacts. And without quality drug rehabilitation, the problem is likely to progress.
Addiction treatments have evolved widely over the last decades. Traditional programs like the abstinence or 12 Steps are no longer the only options. Today, patients can opt for medical intervention as part of treatment.
This explains why more and more patients are now getting holistic care that sometimes includes MAT (Medically Assisted Treatment) like the Naltrexone or Buprenorphine implant. These treatments are effective in treating opioid and alcohol addiction, helping to reduce and mitigate painful withdrawal symptoms. In addition to blocking the effects of addictive substances on the body, they can prevent relapse and promote abstinence.
Buprenorphine has been the “go-to” option for addressing what has become the worst opioid epidemic in America. According to one study published on Addiction Center, the sale of opioid painkillers increased by 300% since 1999. The study further revealed that about 15 million Americans and 2.1 million Americans have alcohol and opioid use disorder.
Going by these numbers, the situation is alarming.
Probuphine, or “bupe” who’s efficacy placed it on the top spot as “the wonder drug,” binds and blocks the opioid receptors in the brain. So, the patient cannot experience the effects of drugs like hydrocodone, morphine, or heroin. And since the user cannot experience the comfort, euphoria, or pleasure associated with these drugs, he or she won’t have the desire to use them.
Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist that’s used to treat both opioid and alcohol addiction. It disrupts the brain pathways that release dopamine and endorphins (which are the ‘feel-good’ hormones). This drug is often prescribed orally and needs to be taken daily to minimize the symptoms linked to opiate withdrawal and recovery.
Medically assisted treatments are affordable and have shown to help individuals recover from opioid and alcohol disorders, enhance social functioning, minimize fatal overdoses, reduce the risk of transmitting infectious diseases, and reduce criminal activity.
Drug implants are designed to serve the same purpose as their pill and injection counterparts – to treat addiction. The implant blocks opiates for around 2-6 months; a depot injection permitted for medical use in Russia and the US lasts about a month. This prevents the need to take medicine daily, theoretically overcoming the main downside of oral drugs – that individuals often stop taking the tablets and fall back to using the substance.
While one month may not seem like adequate time, it might be an invaluable extension for different interventions suitable to a subset group of patients depending on their circumstances and characteristics – especially those who are prepared to quit using.
Depot injections and implants of Naltrexone are yet to be licensed for medical use in the UK and Australia. Although they can be prescribed, both the doctor and patient must assume responsibility for using the drug, which hasn’t met the efficacy and safety standards involved in licensing.
The United States FDA approves Buprenorphine implant as a treatment of opioid addiction. The medical rods are meant to offer a continuous release of a low dose of the drug over six months. Ideal candidates for implant technology should be clinically stable on other approved buprenorphine treatment systems like films or tablets for at least six months.
Probuphine, a newly approved form of Buprenorphine, is implanted under the skin in the upper arm and removed once the treatment is over. However, most treatment centers include it as part of a holistic treatment plan that’s customized to the patient.
Drug implants offer vast benefits when compared to other dosage forms. For starters, these devices allow the drug to be administered at a specific site where it is most needed. Additionally, the implants allow for a significantly lower dosage of medicines, which can lower potential side effects.
There is also the aspect of sustained-release, which cuts out the risk of drug delivery outside of the therapeutic window. Last but not least, drug implants ensure patient compliance since the regime is generally less daunting than weekly injections or taking pills daily.
One of the significant downsides of implantation drugs is their invasive nature. Since they are placed under the skin, there is a small chance of surgery-related complications. And while unlikely, there is also the risk of device failure and biocompatibility issues.
Drug implants can be effective in minimizing cravings and preventing relapse. Unlike oral medications that come with complications of forgetting or failing to take the daily dose, an implant lasts long and ensures a sustained release.
Although more research is required to substantiate the findings, different studies reveal that drug implants may help stop the addiction. For instance, one study showed that Naltrexone implants, which block opiate-type drugs for months, helped addicts in Norway prevent relapse and overdoses after detox.
Another 2014 systemic review analyzed different study results from nine studies, matching Naltrexone implant to oral Naltrexone or placebo and established that the implants were more effective than both oral Naltrexone and placebo.