Buprenorphine Implants to Treat Opioid Addiction

An opioid addiction is one of the more difficult addictions to overcome. The cravings that individuals feel can be impossible to ignore, and withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant. Detoxing from opiates is not life-threatening, but because it is difficult it takes someone committed to recovering to undergo it. There are ways to recover from opioid addiction, and the most effective way involves treatment with pharmaceuticals and therapy.

Treatment professionals are always looking for ways to make the recovery process easier. The development of new medications, such as methadone, to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, have made recovery easier. Buprenorphine, first used in 2002, has been one of the most common drugs to treat opioid addiction, because it is tolerated by most patients and is available in a pill form for patients to take at home.

What Do Implant Studies Show?

Now a new form of buprenorphine has been developed, and its makers released the results of a study today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Titan Pharmaceuticals, led by Dr. Walter Ling, came up with a buprenorphine implant. The implant is placed just beneath the skin on the patient’s arm, and it slowly releases the medication over the span of 6 months. The study showed the implants were successful; they helped patients make it through the full 6 months of treatment in 37% of cases, compared to only 22% making it through with placebo implants. The makers are excited about the buprenorphine implants because they keep patients in treatment. Instead of patients losing interest and stopping taking the oral pills, the implants ensure that the patient gets his or her correct dosage. Implants can’t be sold for drug money either, as sometimes happens to buprenorphine pills.

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Are There Any Concerns About Buprenorphine Implants?

However, there may be some problems with the implant. Some patients had irritation or other complications at the implant site. With a larger group of people participating in the study, we could probably expect even more complications, as is common with surgical implants like this one.

One of the biggest concerns about the implants is the lack of effectiveness that occurred in some of the patients. Many were given supplemental sublingual buprenorphine when their cravings or withdrawal symptoms got bad.

In this study, patients also received drug counseling throughout the 6 month period. If these implants are ever used with the public, just as with any addiction treatment, counseling needs to be a big part of it. Recovering patients need to be committed to a sober lifestyle, which can be developed through hard work and therapy. There is no magic pill or implant that can just take a substance use disorder away; sobriety has to be worked for.