Peer Recovery Program
What is Vivitrol?
Non-Narcotic Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder
Bonnie Nolan, PhD Addiction Services Coordinator
Woodbridge Township Department of Health & Human Services
As the Opioid epidemic rages on, many of us are hearing words and phrases that have not been part of our commonly-used lexicon. We are all beginning to familiarize ourselves with terms associated with Opioids such as prescription pain medications and heroin. Many of us are familiar with traditional medication-assisted treatment; drugs like Suboxone, Subutex, and even Methadone are now fairly common knowledge. These are similar though varying medical approaches to the Opioid use disorder. Since withdrawal is both acute and chronic and often leads to relapse, these methods deliver an alternative to what is sometimes called “white-knuckling” (suffering through painful withdrawal illness without medication.). When taken as prescribed, these drugs can either help ease a person into total abstinence over a course of weeks or months or, alternatively, help a person with a particularly intractable substance use disorder to function while remaining on the medication indefinitely.
Even to many who are somewhat familiar with Opioids and even heroin, Vivitrol (injectable extended-release Naltrexone) is new. Unlike most other medications prescribed specifically for this disorder, Vivitrol is a non-narcotic Opioid antagonist. Vivitrol binds to Opioid receptors in a way that blocks the effect one would normally experience. In other words, when a person is medicated with Vivitrol, Opioids don’t work.
Research shows that relapse rates drop dramatically during Vivitrol treatment. The medication is administered via intramuscular injection (a shot in the buttocks) and lasts one month. Recommended term of Vivitrol treatment is generally six months to one year, but it varies by patient. Vivitrol is covered by most insurance, including Medicaid.
It is important to note, however, that Vivitrol is intended for use while a person receives additional psychological therapy for substance-use disorder. It is by no means a substitute for counseling, but it gives the patient a bit of a break, during which they can address the issues that lead to Opioid misuse. Without additional treatment and/or support, patients treated with Vivitrol are at risk for relapse after Vivitrol is discontinued. Additionally, they will have experienced a change in tolerance similar to that experienced by others who have abstained for a period of time beyond a few weeks. In other words, they are vulnerable to overdose.
One more word of caution: Vivitrol is not to be used by a person who has any Opioids in their system; the patient must go through at least 7-10 days of confirmed abstinence, as administration of Vivitrol can cause severe withdrawal symptoms if administered to a person who is using, or has recently used, any type of Opioid.
While we all continue to educate ourselves about this epidemic and what can be done to combat it, we stand a better chance of defeating this disease. Please visit https://www.vivitrol.com for more information on this important new treatment, and a list of side effects.
Let’s all keep talking about it!