Naltrexone Linked to Longer Heroin Abstinence Rates than Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine and methadone are commonly used in the U.S. to treat heroin and painkiller addiction. These medications affect the brain in ways similar to heroin so patients can benefit from reduced cravings and withdrawal symptoms during treatment. But a new study shows that naltrexone may be more effective than buprenorphine and methadone at prolonging abstinence and sobriety from heroin and opioids.

How do all these medications work to treat opioid addiction, and why is naltrexone more effective at prolonging sobriety? Here’s a closer look at the study, along with the benefits of choosing naltrexone for use in opioid detox and addiction treatment.

Study Results: Naltrexone vs Buprenorphine

Heroin Abstinence Rates

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The JAMA Psychiatry study followed 159 random individuals who struggled with heroin or painkiller dependence. All participants received drug counseling, along with either buprenorphine or naltrexone therapy to treat opioid dependence. Those who received buprenorphine took daily doses of the drug to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while those who received naltrexone received only one monthly injection.

Three months into the study, those who received monthly naltrexone injections were shown to benefit from significantly higher abstinence rates than those who were taking daily doses of buprenorphine. Just over 69 percent of patients who used naltrexone achieved long-term abstinence from heroin, compared to almost 64 percent of patients who took buprenorphine.

While buprenorphine and methadone do offer high success rates in terms of opioid abstinence, the study leaders conclude that naltrexone should be more widely recognized as an effective opioid addiction treatment alongside these medications.

How Do These Drugs Work to Treat Opioid Dependence?

Like heroin and painkillers, methadone and buprenorphine bind to opioid receptors in the brain responsible for controlling feelings of pain and pleasure. However, these drugs do not produce drowsy, sedative, euphoric effects like other opioids. Methadone and buprenorphine are effective at reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and allows patients to continue receiving treatment while performing normal everyday tasks like going to work and driving a car.

Naltrexone, on the other hand, works by blocking the effects of heroin and painkillers. A person who uses heroin and painkillers while using naltrexone will not feel the euphoric effects of these drugs. However, combining naltrexone with heroin and opioids can result in the onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms — discouraging patients against relapsing.

Why Choose Naltrexone Over Buprenorphine and Methadone?

Patients who took naltrexone for opioid dependence in the JAMA Psychiatry study admitted to feeling highly satisfied with their treatment and would recommend naltrexone over buprenorphine to other patients. Naltrexone patients were cited to feel more protected against relapse and overdose in the event they resumed heroin and painkiller use at any time during treatment. These patients also preferred to receive a monthly injection of extended-release naltrexone versus having to visit clinics daily for supervised buprenorphine and methadone treatment.

When compared to buprenorphine and methadone for opioid addiction treatment, naltrexone is shown to offer fewer adverse side effects and a lower risk for dependence and addiction. Naltrexone can also be conveniently administered once per month, and even helps prevent alcohol cravings to benefit those who suffer from cross-addiction to alcohol.

If you or someone you love needs help overcoming heroin or painkiller addiction, understand that help is available and nearby. Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to speak with a caring drug abuse counselor about your treatment options. We’ll help you find heroin and opioid detox centers that use medications including naltrexone, buprenorphine, and methadone to treat opioid dependence.

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