It could soon be easier to fight alcohol dependence — in fact, it could be as easy as getting a single injection once a month. It turns out that a new form of the drug “Vivitrol,” which is developed by the company Alkermes, has just been approved by the FDA to treat alcohol dependence.
Vivitrol consists of “naltrexone” for extended release, which is injected intramuscularly into a patient once a month. Naltrexone is an “opioid antagonist,” which means that it binds opioid receptors in the brain, probably blocking the neurotransmitters that promote alcohol dependence, thus reducing alcohol consumption. I say “probably” because it’s not yet fully understood exactly how this drug works on alcoholism.
Vivitrol has been available in pill form for some time now, but its effects were not as long lasting. This new injection form was evaluated in a good-quality, 24-week study. Researchers split patients into three groups and each group was treated once a month with one of the following injections: 190 mg of Vivitrol; 380 mg of Vivitrol; or placebo. All subjects received counseling throughout the duration of the drug treatment.
The results were very good. Subjects who were treated with 380 mg of the drug experienced a decrease in the number of days of heavy drinking (defined as an average of 4.5 or more drinks a day). Vivitrol was even more effective when patients did not drink at all for a week before receiving the first injection. This group had an even greater reduction in heavy drinking days, plus less drinking days.
In fact, these patients were more likely than the placebo group to abstain completely from drinking alcohol for the duration of the treatment. So, not only could someone taking this drug reduce the numbers of drinks they consumed daily, but there’s also the possibility of quitting the habit completely.
You should not use Vivitrol if you are taking opioid analgesics, are dependent on or in withdrawal from opioids, or have severe liver disease. In fact, if you have any type of liver disease, you should be extremely cautious and work closely with your doctor. Possible side effects with this drug include injection site reactions, mild nausea, headache, depression, and allergic pneumonia (rare).
It’s important to note that Vivitrol does not diminish any of the withdrawal symptoms associated with the treatment of alcohol dependence. The drug must be administered by a medical professional. It’s also essential that you receive proper counseling when being treated with Vivitrol.
It’s expected that this new injection form of the drug will be released by June of this year.