New treatment for drug addiction

November 22, 2010 4:13:57 PM PST
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in 2008, almost 2 million Americans depend on or are addicted to narcotic pain killers, but there's a new development in treatment.

We make up only five percent of the world, but Americans use 80 percent of narcotic pain pills. It's worse for some people, who are addicted to illicit narcotics such as heroin. Many treatment programs are not very successful, but a new drug just approved by the FDA may be the best treatment yet.

Robert Halk is in narcotic addiction rehab at New York State Psychiatric Institute. For 30 of his 52 years, he's been shooting up heroin.

"Every day is the same. Hustle up money to pay for a habit just to get your life going in the morning. The thing is you don't see a way out," Halk said.

Three months ago, he found a way out. It's a drug called Vivitrol. He gets an injection of it once a month.

"It's a breakthrough because it's the first preparation of a long acting blocker that makes it feasible to use in patients," Dr. Adam Bisaga of Columbia Psychiatry said.

A blocker is any drug that prevents the action of another.

Studies show that Vivitrol works by blocking 100% of the narcotic receptors in the brain. Narcotics can't attach to brain cells and have no effect on the patient.

The drug kills the compulsive cravings for narcotics. One injection works for one month.

"On the days that I wanted to use, it gives you thirty days whether you want to do that or not if I wait a day, my mind changes," Halk said.

Falling off the wagon is easier with methadone drug treatment, where missing a dose one day means being able to get high the next. And methadone is a substitute but weak narcotic, which can make user's drowsy. Talk therapy has a very high dropout rate.

Robert says he's tried all the treatments, and failed each time. He goes to a support group to complement the Vivitrol. After three decades, he's been clean for the last three months.

"For people who have an addition problem like i had, that can't see a way out this is a big step up," Halk said.

Vivitrol is also approved to treat alcohol addiction. Dr. Bisaga says if patients can get through one month of Vivitrol, they can have a 60-70% recovery rate six months later. The shots can be given by your family doctor. The drug is free during studies still going on at the institute.

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New York State Psychiatric Institute