Unite learns about new drug treatment

Photo by Bobbie Poynter Justin Powell of Alkermes, Inc. was the guest speaker at Unite's November meeting.
Photo by Bobbie Poynter
Justin Powell of Alkermes, Inc. was the guest speaker at Unite’s November meeting.

“It’s not a cure. It is a tool to help with cravings.”

Justin Powell, Territory Business Manager with Alkermes, spoke with the Knox County Unite Coalition Tuesday, and told them of a new non-addictive, non-narcotic drug that literally keeps someone from getting high on opiates, heroin and alcohol.

“If they try to use, they simply can’t get high,” he explained.

The drug is called Vivitrol, and it is injected once a month after a patient is clean of opiates, which normally takes from seven to ten days, but could take longer.

The easy way to determine if someone has been off opiates long enough is by giving the client a special pill. Within 30 minutes, if the person does not become sick and nauseated, then he is clean, and the Vivitrol treatment can begin.

The program, Powell said, works well with recovery programs, as patients need time for their brains to heal. It is recommended that clients stay on the program for a whole year, coupled with a 12-step program.

Vivitrol is not a narcotic and, according to Powell, has no side affects, other than a bit of soreness at the injection site.

There are, however, a few downsides to taking the new drug. One is the risk of overdosing. Occasionally, a client is so determined to get high, he will keep shooting up, even while on Vivitrol. He will not be able to get high, but could overdose trying. A person’s tolerance level will decrease over time, causing someone to need more and more to get high. However, if someone is incarcerated or in rehab, his tolerance level to the opiates could gradually return to normal. Once out, the person takes what he thinks he needs to get high and accidently overdoses himself.

Patients on Vivitrol are offered an I.D. bracelet, dog tags and a card in the case they are in an accident and incapacitated. The I.D.s are to notify everyone, including hospital staff, that the patient is on Vivitrol and cannot be prescribed opiates for pain as they simply will not work.

Liver damage is also caused by long-term opiate use, and it is important that hospital staff is aware of the patient’s history.

As the drug gains popularity – it has begun taking off in Ohio – it will be covered by commercial insurance and Medicaid. Powell says the manufacturer also helps cover the client’s co-pay. Currently, the cost of one injection could be as high as $1,500.

The hard part, Powell says, is getting doctors to administer the prescription. Suboxone has been the drug of choice for so many years, it is considered the staple prescription for drug addicts.