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Vivitrol Addiction Treatment: What You Need to Know

Vivitrol is a prescription medicine used to treat alcohol dependence and prevent a relapse to opioid dependence after detoxification. The medication is an extended-release formulation of Naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist used to treat alcoholism or opioid addiction. As opposed to daily dosages of Naltrexone, Vivitrol is taken once a month through an intramuscular injection. This largely eliminates the problem of medication compliance, a common problem for patients taking daily dosages. Vivitrol was approved by the FDA as a treatment for alcoholism in 2006 and again in 2010 for narcotic and heroin addiction.

How it works

Vivitrol is typically prescribed for individuals that have already stopped drinking or using opioids (morphine, heroin or prescription pain medications) and have gone through detoxification. It works by blocking the effects of alcohol or opioids on the brain, thus reducing the cravings that most people experience once they stop abusing these drugs. Being an opioid receptor antagonist simply means that it blocks the usual reaction the brain has to the drug; the pleasurable feelings associated with these drugs are not experienced.

Advice for patients

Vivitrol is usually given once every 4 weeks by a doctor or nurse in a clinic. Patients are advised to receive the injections on a regular basis for the most benefit. It is also important to wear a medical tag or have an ID card stating you are on Vivitrol addiction treatment in case of an emergency since any healthcare provider treating you should know you are on the medication. In addition, an individual suffering from kidney or liver disease or one with a bleeding disorder like hemophilia may require a dose adjustment to safely receive Vivitrol.

Side effects

Some of the possible side effects when taking Vivitrol addiction treatment include decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps and painful joints. One particularly serious side effect that would require immediate medical attention is a reaction at the site of the injection. Other serious side effects that might even require surgery include liver damage, allergic reactions including hives, swelling or rashes, and pneumonia. Vivitrol is also associated with depression, suicide and suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Warnings

Vivitrol should only be used for patients who are completely detoxified from alcohol or opioids. The medication should never be used as a way to help someone stop drinking or abusing drugs. According to the FDA, a patient's system must be free of opioids and alcohol before he or she starts using the medication to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Patients may become increasingly sensitive to opioids as a result of Vivitrol addiction treatment. Once they are off the medication, they could easily overdose on the drugs if they take the same amount they took before treatment. In addition, you may not feel the usual effect when using heroin or other illegal drugs while on Vivitrol. This could lead to taking larger amount of the drugs to beat the effects of the medication, which could lead to overdose as well as serious injury, coma or even death. In case of an overdose, emergency medical help must be sought immediately.

Controversy

The greatest problem with Vivitrol addiction treatment is the cost; each injection goes for about 1000 dollars. However, Alkermes Inc., the manufacturer, provides financial help for 13 months to reduce the price by half for individuals with private insurance. It also co-cuts for patients with Medicaid or Medicare to as low as 5 dollars per injection. While some insurance companies will pay for nearly the entire cost of the drug, many insurance plans do not. This is one of the main reasons why doctors in most drug rehab programs may not prescribe it. In addition, many argue that a shot cannot provide the personal commitment to change that drug addicts and alcoholics must address.

Effectiveness

There has been varying success in the use of Naltrexone for alcohol abuse. On the other hand, Vivitrol addiction treatment was found to be more effective than daily medications in preventing relapse as well as reducing cravings. In fact, FDA trials revealed that patients taking Vivitrol were more likely to stay in treatment and refrain from illicit drug use. However, like most pharmaceutical treatments for addiction, the medication works best when combined with an overall treatment program such as counseling, psychotherapy or participation in a support group.

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