Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist that is prescribed to treat opiate dependence. It has also been successfully used in the treatment of alcohol dependency Opioid antagonists bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and blocks them. This means that effects of drugs like heroin, morphine or hydrocodone are not experienced. A drug user will not feel the physical effects of euphoria, comfort or well-being associated with these drugs and it is anticipated that the user will not have the desire to take the opiate drug. Naltrexone interrupts the pathways in the brain that release the feel good chemicals like endorphins when the drug is taken and has proved to be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of relapse.
Naltrexone is commonly prescribed in oral form and must be taken daily to reduce the symptoms associated with opiate withdrawals and recovery. However, the effectiveness of the drug is compromised by not sticking to the recommended dosage. To overcome this problem, doctors have developed the naltrexone implant that can be implanted into the lower abdomen and releases a controlled amount of naltrexone into the body. In this form, the issues associated with skipping doses are removed and a opiate dependent person can work on overcoming their addiction.
A naltrexone implant is a small pellet that is inserted into the lower abdominal wall under local anesthetic. The implant is effective for 3-6 months depending on the type of implant used and releases a controlled amount of naltrexone into the body. The implant works by blocking the effects of opiate drugs. It does this by binding to opiate receptors in the body which prevents opiate drugs like heroin or oxycodone from causing a person to experience the usual high. In blocking the effectiveness of the drug, naltrexone helps to break the cycle of drug use.
Naltrexone implants are only approved for use in a clinical setting in one county, Russia. However, the implants have been available in private rehabilitation centers throughout Australia, America and United Kingdom. Health workers in Russia have reported that the implants are problematic due to the prohibitively high cost of them and the lack of additional supporting treatment. Naltrexone is also not effective at reducing cravings or dealing with the psychological issues associated with opiate addiction. As with any treatment for drug or alcohol dependence, a multifaceted approach is required to help an addict overcome all aspects of the substance dependence.
Side Effects of Naltrexone
Naltrexone can cause a number of side effects including:
* Gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and cramping
* Anxiety or nervousness
The drug is not suitable for people who are pregnant or breast feeding, suffer from liver or kidney disease or are affected by hepatitis. Naltrexone has been found to contribute to liver damage if taken in higher than recommended doses.
In addition to the potential side effects, naltrexone may increase the risk of overdose. If a person who is fitted with a naltrexone implant uses an opiate drug they will not feel the euphoria or pleasant experiences associated with the drug unless they take very large doses. This is because the naltrexone blocks the opioid receptors which can only be overcome if a massive dose of an opiate drug is taken. Very high doses of opiate drugs is known to cause respiratory depression and can lead to death.
Naltrexone as a Quick Fix
Many people who suffer from opiate dependence will believe that the naltrexone implant is the fix for them. The drug provides many benefits when used under correct conditions and could help a number of people who have a drug dependence problem. However, the implant has not been approved for use in a clinical setting in Australia, America or United Kingdom. Individuals who are fitted with the implant in a private clinic are placing themselves at risk of developing adverse reactions and suffering infections. Evidence has shown that some patients who were fitted with naltrexone implants in a private setting suffered from severe adverse reactions. These include severe opiate withdrawal and dehydration, infection at the implant site, psychiatric disorder and overdose.
As with many of the drug treatments for substance abuse, there is some risk that an addict may turn to other drugs to satisfy their cravings for a substance. The drug addict works around the drug that is designed to help them overcome their dependence and use a substance that is not blocked. In the case of naltrexone, a substance abuser may use cocaine or methamphetamine instead. Both these drugs have high abuse and addiction potential which could lead to the development of a secondary dependence.
Drug dependence is considered a multi-factorial health disorder that often follows the course of a relapsing and remitting chronic disease. It is characterized by progressive psychological deterioration that is the result of drug abuse. Like other diseases, drug addiction, can affect people from any ethnic, cultural or socioeconomic background. Genetics, environment, childhood experiences, peers and trauma play a significant role in the development of an addiction. Treating a drug addiction is a long and difficult process that is often characterized by periods of relapse, severe withdrawals and psychological distress. The most successful treatments for substance dependence relies of commitment from the addict, supporting family and friends, intensive medical and psychological therapy. An implant may treat some of the symptoms of opiate dependence, but it is not the one-fix treatment that will deal with the problem.