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A new “medication” for treatment of opioid addiction?


Like me, you may be seeing the headlines from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announcement late yesterday that an existing medication for the treatment of alcohol dependence has now been approved for the treatment of opioid dependence.  The approval of the medication is for use among adults over the age of 18 and is phrased by the FDA as, “for the prevention of relapse to opioid dependence.” 


This could be a major positive development for families with a young adult dealing with an addiction to prescription pain medications or heroin.  The non-narcotic, non-addictive medication, Vivitrol from the company Alkermes is certain to get the attention of physicians, treatment professionals, patients and their families.  Because addiction is a chronic disease of the human brain, and opioid addiction, in particular, is so often characterized by frequent relapse, this new FDA approval could mean that a person entering treatment for addiction to an opioid would have the benefit of a once-monthly, opioid-blocking medication during treatment and for some period afterward. 


My view is that this medication, or any medication of this kind, must be used at the same time with appropriate addiction treatment services, including psychosocial support.  I believe that is consistent with what experts are saying about the emerging field of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).  MAT is an approach to treatment of substance use disorders that combines use of a medication with appropriate treatment services, including counseling and behavioral therapy. 


This should come as good news to parents who are at the center of our mission.  Over the past year, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has worked closely with parents and experts in the treatment and recovery field to create Time To Get Help.This new treatment resource and community helps parents and caregivers gain a better understanding of teen alcohol and drug abuse, dependence and addiction; get support from experts and other parents who have been there and understand the challenges and emotions of caring for an addicted child; and find the right treatment for their child and family. 


I encourage Intervene readers to take a closer look at   For example, pincluding more information and a deeper understanding of MAT and what the options are?  What are your thoughts on opioid addiction and approaches like MAT? We would love to hear from you.

8 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Ivy Carpenter
    Ivy Carpenter / November 1, 2013 at 6:56 pm


    If your daughter is anything like mine, She knows what she is doing and has it all under control. I have been thru three years of pure hell with my daughter, who started out the same, sampling drugs that she was in control of. Shes now 24 and trying to get her detoxed from opiates is nearly impossible. She went from oxy, to crack cocaine to heroin, I even tried to take her to rapid detox, she had too many different chemicals to do this safely and the fly by night clinic in Michigan that does this is pretty dam scarry, I would never go there again, it scared the be-jesus out of me. Totally unprofessional and totally fly by night, everything about it is temporary and feels like its an underground procedure. So now she is in a methadone treat and I honestly dont know how that is doing either, whatever you can do to keep her away from that stuff please do, it will only get worse and seeing your baby with needle marks and totally messed up is the most sickening picture I have experienced and trust me I never thought my beautiful little girl would do such a thing either………..

  2. Avatar of Ann
    Ann / November 19, 2010 at 1:13 am

    This treatment sounds wonderful; but, is is addictive. Does one have to take this injection monthly for life? My 19 year old daughter uses oxy codones from time to time. She admits to enjoying them and can’t seem to find fault with her usage. She’s just been arrested for possession and facing a court date soon. I am following her around to the point that I am becoming physically ill and can’t go on like any longer. Please tell me more about Vivitrol. This is the first time I’ve read about this.

  3. Patti Herndon / November 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Vivitrol is costly. In doing some internet searches I found that there are some offers that can considerably lower the cost of the treatment, at least for a trial period. One such offer I read reports that it can make the medication available for up to one year for those without insurance.

    I think it’s worth looking into these kinds of offers and finding out what they are about. When we increase our menu of options it empowers our sense of hope. That’s always a good thing.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the Destination

  4. Patti Herndon / October 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    “She is the model of the bio/gene-environment convergence of risk factors – addiction and depression in the family and a very stressful relationship with her father”.

    Sally, Wow… That’s insight at a glance. And, because of that insight -Because of your dedication to learning about and applying what you know to your circumstances -those biological, psychological, environmental factors that converge in an addiction challenge; you’re increasing the odds for your daughters’ sustainable recovery, as well as your sense of confidence, hope and peace as you journey.

    That’s what we as parents of an addiction-challenged sons/ daughters want to do -Support recovery by being as informed as we can be and applying what we learn to our circumstances, consistently.

    You bring up such an important point of focus in the big picture by mentioning the “environmental” side of the equation in addiction: One very important environmental/sociological angle in addiction is looking into the relationship dynamic that we have cultivated with our son or daughter, as well as looking into the relational dynamic that our addiction-challenged son or daughter has with other parent, or other concerned significant others (CSO’s). These kinds of helps will very often yield opportunities for positive change -Change supporting sustainable recovery and healthy, cohesive family relational bonds.

    A vetted therapist who practices up to date, evidence-based approaches/methodologies in addiction recovery can help the addiction-challenged individual utilize/enhance their own innate strengths to work their recovery and attain insights as to their perspectives about their life. Also, a quality family therapist can help the family address what it is that might be contributing to the addiction-challenged family members’ decisions to cope with substances and then help the family make unified decisions about ways they can contribute to and support healthy change.

    The addiction-challenged family member and the family system can gain so much benefit/strength with these kinds of supports added into the scope of the journey.

    Sally, I believe you’re an example of hopeful, confident, informed parenting. You’re an inspiration to me. Wishing you and your daughter continued insights, peace, and ever-increasing well-being. Thank you for sharing your insight and hope. Please keep visiting and sharing!

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

  5. Avatar of Sally Phillips
    Sally Phillips / October 19, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    My 17 year old daughter has been talking Vivitrol monthly injections since August. It is supposed to strongly reduce the effects of alcohol and (now) opiates and reduce the cravings for everything else. It has been, so far, very effective, with no positive drug testing.

    However, I know from seeing something she wrote that she still feels like she doesn’t fit in the world. She wrote that she feels like “a druggie with no drugs”. Thats why her seeing a therapist is so important. She is the model of the bio/gene-environment convergence of risk factors – addiction and depression in the family and a very stressful relationship with her father. I know it will be a struggle but I’m convince that medication and therapy is the right way to go. Hopefully we will be able to convince her to maintain it when she turns 18 next summer. But I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

  6. Patti Herndon / October 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks for this evidence-supported, hope-inspiring post!

    “The drug works by blocking the effect of opiates on brain cells, preventing the person from getting high. The effects of one injection last for a full month. In a clinical trial in Russia, 86 percent of people taking Vivitrol hadn’t relapsed after six months, while only 57 percent of placebo patients had stayed clean. However, researchers note that methadone isn’t available in Russia, and say it might be harder to convince addicts in the United States to opt for this treatment.

    “Vivitrol’s long-acting effect provides a kind of chemical willpower. “Someone who’s interested in not abusing opiates only has to make one good decision a month –- or their family member only has to help them make one good decision a month,”[Phil] Skolnick [of the National Institute on Drug Abuse] says. “That’s why it’s important.” [NPR].”

    “The drug is mixed with a plastic polymer, ethylene vinyl acetate–commonly found in hot glue gun glue–and is implanted under the skin, releasing the drug for 24 weeks. The implant is not on the market yet, but the results of a clinical trial were released this week in the Journal of American Medical Association.”

    “The use of implants provides a degree of flexibility for clients, while also maintaining medication with minimal risk of misuse.” [Science News]

    “The company behind the implant, Titan Pharmaceuticals, is currently conducting a second trial of the drug, and the results should be out in early 2011. One worry about these long-lasting drugs is that patients who don’t have to come in and take their medication will be less likely to attend counseling sessions regularly, and therefore be more likely to relapse”.”

    I, as well as many other parents of children with a substance use disorder, remain hopeful about the long term efficacy in these kinds of MATs in addressing substance use disorder. Vivitrol is “another” valid approach in a grwoing “Menu of Options” we have to choose from, to date.

    The majority of contemporary addictions professionals tend toward viewing substance use disorders as a collective converging/result of biological (genetic, biochemical) and environmental (family systems and community/societal dynamics) dysfunction.

    Think, biology/gene-related component as the gun, the environmental component (ailing family system/societal stigmas) as the trigger”.

    If you’re the parent of an addiction challenged son or daughter …move heaven and earth to stay current, creative, and open-minded in terms of your own education as to available treatments. Don’t put limits on the “recovery discovery” potential of your loved that is addiction-challenged by prescribing only to one method of approach if you continue to observe mounting relapses. (The average number of relapses in the process of addiction is reported as about seven). One size does not fit all.

    Medically assisted treatment (MAT) approaches have merit. Promote self-efficacy, (yours and your addicted loved ones), by encouraging your addiction-challenged family member to explore multiple treatment options. This will increase their knowledge base, thus their sense of individual empowerment. Empowerment is the good energy that supports the addicted “individual” in becoming better self-reliant in terms of healthy, sustainable problem solving/coping -That good stuff just happens to spill over to the rest of the family system in the journey of addiction, on out to community and, ultimately, society. Empowerment is a BIG player in recovery -Recovery of patient, family, community, society.

    Current, evidence-based medical assistance coupled with therapeutic cognitive/ behavioral/motivational strategies stand the best chance at treating the whole disorder of substance use, supporting, in a broad scope, sustainable recovery by enhancing coping skill set for everyone who is directly involved… the patient, the family. As the patient and the family recovers from substance use disorder, so then will community and society. It’s a feedback loop, of sorts. All components contributing for the greater good.

    If there is an expectation of immediate gratification of “cured” in this addiction journey, this “healing” process; probably best to re-examine the reasonability/logic of the expectation. We need broader scope to continue to support change. It’s a process. We are ALL experiencing the process, the journey, in one way or another as either an addicted individual, concerned significant other, and as members of community/society. We “can” fuel ourselves for the long haul.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

  7. Tom at Recovery Helpdesk / October 15, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Vivitrol is an extended release formulation of an existing medication: naltrexone.

    Naltrexone is not an opiate, but it has the ability to block the effects of opiates by physically occupying opiate receptor sites in the brain.

    Naltrexone is already used to treat addiction to heroin or other pain killers, but usefulness of the treatment has been limited by the fact that many patients simply skip doses or stop taking the medication as part of a relapse to opiate use.

    The reason Vivitrol is an exciting new option, is because a single injection of Vivitrol(into muscle) lasts for a whole month, reducing the temptation and opportunity to circumvent the treatment.

    There is a Vivitrol information page at Recovery Helpdesk ( people want to get more details.

  8. Ron Grover / October 13, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    This is all good news but from what I am reading so far the medicine is expecetd to cost $1000 per month and it is not going to be covered by most insurance. (

    That makes it tough on addicts and families that have limited resources. Yes, we can say it is less than an expensive drug habit, it is cheap considering a funeral or a destroyed life but until these new drugs become available and affordable to the addict that has no LEGAL means of affording the drug then they remain a pipe dream for most people suffering daily.

    Reality check, the cost of addiction and it’s indirect effects on society as a whole makes $1000 per month cheap. How do we educate people that when we help one we help all.

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