The Epiphany Blog

how does vivitrol work

Breaking The Opioid Cycle: How Does Vivitrol Work?

Written By Epiphany - April 25th, 2017

Opioid addiction is an epidemic steadily sweeping its way across America.

Access to effective treatment is particularly important, as addition is a complex, chronic disease – affecting people both psychologically and physically. From the first dabble with drugs, to a full-blown addiction, opioids such as heroin, pain relievers and other prescription drugs, can take a hold of a person pretty quickly.

People do recover from opioid dependencies, but to do so successfully, they also need to deal with other issues present in their lives. Opioids aren’t easy to escape from, despite how much the dependent person says they want to, but there are effective treatments available to make a life of sobriety that bit more possible.

One such treatment and medication which has been proven to prevent relapse after detox, is Vivitrol. Vivitrol is the first and only non-narcotic, non-addictive, once-monthly medication approved for the treatment of opioid dependence. Vivitrol treatment should form part of a comprehensive management program, that also includes psychosocial support.

How does Vivitrol work?

Vivitrol – the trade name for Naltrexone – works by attaching itself to opioid receptors in the brain, and blocking them. It is an intra-muscular extended release injection of an opioid receptor antagonist. It blocks opiates, such as heroin, from reaching the receptors in the brain, and makes it impossible to get high. The injection lasts for 30 days, unlike its daily-administrable form, Naltrexone pills, that must be taken every day.

It can also be used for the treatment of alcohol dependence as well as for the prevention of relapse to opioid dependence, following opioid detoxification.

The body must be fully detoxed from opioids for 7-10 days (and alcohol for at least 24 hours) prior to the administering of Vivitrol injections, otherwise severe withdrawal symptoms may occur.  Once the Vivitrol shot is administered, it isn’t possible to get high or feel any effects from heroin for a period of 30 days. For those battling addiction, that’s seems a long time to commit –  at least while the medicine remains in the body. One of biggest hurdles therefore, is the level of willingness of the person surrendering their drug abuse.

The greatest excitement surrounds how it’s administered: as a monthly shot. Also, unlike methadone, Vivitrol is not a controlled substance; it cannot be abused and there is no illegal market for it. It wasn’t until researchers created an injectable, long-acting version that clinical studies showed the drug’s promise.

 Adverse effects

Vivitrol isn’t suitable for all. There are significant risks from Vivitrol treatment, including risk of opioid overdose, severe reaction at the injection site and sudden opioid withdrawal. Other side effects of Vivitrol may include nausea, headaches, and dizziness.

If someone relapses and starts to use opioid drugs again, they will not experience the same high since the antagonist is blocking the receptor from the opioids. However, using very high doses of opioids, and stopping Vivitrol and then reusing opioid drugs carries an overdose risk. Trying to overcome the blocking effects of Vivitrol may also cause overdose or fatality.

It is recommended that those using Vivitrol should always carry some form of medic alert in case of emergencies.

The future of Vivitrol

Some psychiatrists have cautioned against the rising buzz around Vivitrol and its efficacy: it can’t necessarily be seen as a magic bullet for treating opiate dependents. However, receiving a monthly shot can be extremely worthwhile to those who wrestle daily with the decision to stay clean.

In one 6-month study, participants were treated with monthly injections along with counseling. Though many participants did drop out of treatment, 36% of those in the injection treatment group succeeded in total abstinence from opioids, as compared with 23% in those treated with a placebo injection.

The study found Vivitrol may be more appropriate for individuals who:

  • Have had no success with treatments such as methadone
  • Have a milder addiction and are highly motivated to quit
  • Prefer to not take methadone treatments, or cannot because of legal or job requirements
  • Have difficulty committing to taking a medication every day
  • Face an increased risk for relapse, such as right after detoxification or during a time of stress.

Vivitrol is a monthly treatment and as such effectively buys you a month, but if you stop taking it and you haven’t received help with coping strategies, you’re likely to relapse.

The intravenous treatment is only part of a recovery plan, not the sole solution. The person has to stay in the rehabilitation facility (or stay sober) for any treatment to be helpful, but Vivitrol can make it possible for people to stay put in a 60-day treatment center and start the recovery process.

For treatment to be successful, rehabilitation programs must combine counseling, psychotherapeutic work and medication in order to help a person move forward in their recovery process.