Naltrexone is More Effective for Opioid Addiction When Combined with Detox, says Study

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Written by: on 16th November, 2017

Naltrexone is a medication commonly used as part of opioid addiction treatment to help patients stay sober. But a new study comparing naltrexone to another opioid treatment found that naltrexone is mostly effective only when combined with drug detox. The study findings shed light on the importance of going through drug detox before using medications as part of ongoing opioid addiction treatment.

Which Opioid Treatments Offer the Lowest Relapse Rates?

The new study published earlier this week compared the effectiveness of naltrexone against buprenorphine in regards to opioid relapse rates. The study followed the relapse rates of 570 opioid addiction patients over the course of 24 weeks. Half the participants took naltrexone, while the other half took buprenorphine.

During the study, six percent of patients assigned to buprenorphine were unable to start treatment, while a staggering 28 percent of patients assigned to naltrexone also failed to start treatment. Many of these patients relapsed, and went back to abusing heroin and painkillers.

The scientists who led the NIDA-sponsored study say that when drug detox is excluded from treatment, the relapse rates for patients on naltrexone are higher than those for buprenorphine due to the different effects of each drug. However, the researchers point out that naltrexone patients who go through drug detox prior to starting medication can benefit from higher abstinence rates. This data goes hand in hand with that from another recent study comparing relapse rates for naltrexone versus buprenorphine.

Naltrexone vs Buprenorphine: How Does Each Medication Work?

Naltrexone is an extended release medication that only needs to be administered once a month.

Naltrexone works by blocking the effects of opioids. A person on naltrexone who decides to use heroin or painkillers will not feel the euphoric, sedative effects of those opioids. Buprenorphine, on the other hand, binds to the same opioid receptors as heroin and painkillers, and treats addiction by eliminating drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The main difference between the two medications is that naltrexone does not relieve withdrawal symptoms, while buprenorphine does. This means that those who are still physically dependent on opioids will continue to experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms while using naltrexone, and are more likely to drop out of treatment as a result.

Scientists involved in the study say that drug detox is necessary to help naltrexone patients experience lower relapse rates. Drug detox helps patients overcome physical dependency on opioids so they no longer experience cravings, insomnia, muscle aches, and other severe withdrawal symptoms.

The Role of Drug Detox in Opioid Addiction Treatment

Withdrawing from heroin and painkillers is often the first and most difficult stage of overcoming opioid addiction, which is partly why the opioid epidemic results in thousands of overdose deaths every year. Drug detox helps patients safely and comfortably get through withdrawal with a lowered risk for relapse and other complications.

Opioid detox treatments commonly involve the use of methadone and buprenorphine — both of which bind to opioid receptors in the brain to eliminate withdrawal symptoms. During detox, patients replace heroin and painkillers with methadone or buprenorphine so they can stop using opioids while experiencing less pain and discomfort. Naltrexone is most effective when used by patients following drug detox, since the drug blocks the effects of opioids to prevent euphoria.

When naltrexone is paired with drug detox, patients fare better with long-term sobriety, and face higher success rates compared to patients who just use buprenorphine. Naltrexone is also an extended-release formula that can be injected once per month, while buprenorphine and methadone must be taken daily under close medical supervision.

Are you struggling with heroin and painkiller addiction, and need help quitting? Understand you’re not alone, and that there are nearby drug detox centers ready to help you become healthier and addiction-free. Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to speak with a caring drug abuse counselor about your opioid treatment options.