Vivitrol & the Ohio Opioid Epidemic
Overdose deaths in Ohio are now the third-leading cause of lost life-years
in the state. As of 2019, this totaled 38.3 overdose deaths
in the state per 100,000 people. Unfortunately, overdose deaths have only worsened during COVID-19. The spike in overdoses in Ohio during the pandemic has led some health leaders to call overdoses an “epidemic within a pandemic
Health professionals are using all available tools to fight addiction and overdoses. One of these tools is the drug Vivitrol (naltrexone), which has even been used to help people suffering from substance use disorders within the state’s prison system
How Does Vivitrol Work?
Vivitrol works by blocking the effects of opioids in the body. It is a mu-opioid receptor antagonist
, meaning that it stops opioids from working on the opioid receptors. This prevents a person from getting high off opioids, and it also prevents opioid overdose.
Vivitrol is also used to combat alcoholism as it can block a person from feeling the effects of alcohol
. This makes them less likely to drink since they cannot feel buzzed or drunk. However, even though a person may not feel drunk, Vivitrol does not stop the effects of alcohol
in the body. This means a person can still have a high blood alcohol level and should not drive after drinking even if they do not feel drunk.
Vivitrol is most commonly given in an injectable form. A health care provider injects the medication, which lasts for a month
in the body. Alternatively, an oral form for daily use is also available. However, experts do not recommend the oral form
because many people have trouble sticking to treatment plans, making it less effective than the injectable form.
Vivitrol Side Effects
Like any drug, Vivitrol has some side effects. These include
- Injection site reactions, including tenderness, occurring in 65% of people
- Nausea, experienced by 29% of people
- Headache, affecting 21% of people
- Dizziness, impacting 13% of people
- Insomnia, occurring in 13% of people
- Sore throat, impacting 13% of people
- Decreased appetite, occurring in 11% of people
- Abdominal pain, experienced by 11% of people
- Anxiety, affecting 10% of people
Rarely, Vivitrol can cause severe side effects, like liver problems
. You should seek medical attention if you have signs of acute hepatitis, including
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal pain
- Yellowish discoloration of eyes and/or skin
- Dark-colored urine
- Light-colored stools
Mental health problems, including depression
and suicidal thoughts, have also been reported in people taking Vivitrol. For this reason, people with preexisting mental health problems should have close follow-ups with their doctor, and should seek help if they notice any worsening in their mental health.
Who Should Use Vivitrol?
Vivitrol can be taken
by adults aged 18 years or older who want to prevent a relapse into alcohol or opioid use. A person should be completely abstinent from alcohol and opioids before starting the medication. Because some opioids are long-acting, a person should be opioid-free for seven to ten days
before starting Vivitrol, as taking it earlier than that can cause withdrawal symptoms. Because there is limited data on Vivitrol use in pregnancy and breastfeeding, you should discuss the risks and benefits of Vivitrol with your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to be pregnant.
Vivitrol should be avoided
in those who are currently taking or physically dependent on opioids, as well as those who are in acute opioid withdrawal. Those who are allergic to ingredients in the injection, like naltrexone, PLG, or carboxymethylcellulose, should also avoid the drug.
Vivitrol vs. Suboxone
Vivitrol and Suboxone
are different medications that can be used to help prevent opioid relapse. Although the drugs are similar in their goal, they have many important differences. One important difference is that people are more likely
to adhere more closely to Suboxone therapy than Vivitrol.