The devastating impacts of opioid addiction are being felt throughout the entire United States, and it is an addiction that spares no one. According to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control, prescription painkiller and heroin overdoses accounted for nearly 63 percent of the 47,055 drug overdoses reported in 2014. With opioid deaths continuing to climb in the United States, there has been an increased focus on the use of medications in addition to treatment and other abstinence-based programs to aid in combatting the disease. One medication that has emerged in the war against opioid abuse is Vivitrol.
What is Vivitrol?
Vivitrol was initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 to help in the treatment of alcoholism. According to an article written by Rebecca Spalding, the drug was considered a commercial disappointment after two and half years on the market. However, Vivitrol experienced a revival in 2013 when the FDA approved the drug to treat and help prevent relapse for individuals who have completed opioid detoxification. Ironically, the approval coincided with the current resurgence of heroin and painkiller addiction.
Vivitrol contains the active ingredient naltrexone which belongs to a class of drugs known as opiate antagonists. Antagonists are created to block the cravings and pleasurable effects that are associated with opioid use. Vivitrol binds to opioid receptors in the brain and is able to block the effects of other opioid drugs. Antagonist drugs cause physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if there are any opioid drugs present in a person's body, so it is only utilized in people who have successfully completed a medical detoxification program.
Changing the Approach to Treatment
While Vivitrol has experienced a rebirth as a tool to help fight opioid addiction, the emergence of the drug has not been without its share of intrigue. First, there has been some in the recovery community who have raised questions concerning the cost of the drug. Currently, the cost for receiving a monthly shot of Vivitrol is $1,300. While this cost is steep, Alkermes—the Irish pharmaceutical company which produces the drug—has stated that is offers discounts on the drug through a co-pay system. Additionally, the drug may be covered under insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act.
What makes its emergence particularly interesting is the fact that the same pharmaceutical companies that have faced solid resistance from the recovery community may reap benefits from efforts to curb and eliminate opioid abuse. Just in the past year, revenues of Vivitrol increased 53 percent and made up 30 percent of Alkermes' total profits. By the end of the year, analysts predict that total sales of the drug will rise 31 percent with the help of federal funding.
Despite Alkermes’ undeniable increased profits, the resurgence of Vivitrol isn't without a sense of worry. Earlier this year, Alkermes' stock plummeted 44 percent in a single day when its highly-touted depression drug failed in two final-stage tests before release. Currently, the total market value of Alkermes is less than half of what it was last December.
A Push Towards the Future
Currently used by only 16,000 patients nationwide, Vivitrol will be available to more individuals in need thanks to President Obama's request for $1.1 billion in federal funding. In addition to increased support on the federal level, Vivitrol is receiving a push at the state and local level with 30 states creating 100 programs offering Vivitrol along with drug counseling. Additionally, new regulations are in place that will provide education and training to those healthcare professionals who administer the drug.
It remains to be seen what impact Vivitrol will have in curbing an opioid epidemic which is showing little to no sign of slowing down. However, with the current push given to Vivitrol and similar medications, there is clear indication that lawmakers, healthcare professionals and now pharmaceutical companies are employing any means necessary to bring the epidemic under control.