Opioid Treatment also Helps With Cocaine

Buprenorphine and Naltrexone when used together may also have positive benefits in the treatment of cocaine addiction in addition to the OxyContin (or opiate) treatment they are already commonly used for.

Scientists working at the Scripps Institute in California have uncovered what may be a promising new treatment for addiction to cocaine and other stimulants. Two existing drugs that are used for treatment of addiction to prescription painkillers like OxyContin as well as heroin were found to be effective for cocaine addiction in initial studies. When used in combination, the drugs do not present a risk of dependence.

Buprenorphine and naltrexone were used in a study with cocaine-dependent rats. The promising results have led to the launch of clinical trials with human subjects. If these trials are successful, the drug combination could become the first medication proven effective for cocaine addiction. Researchers believe that the treatment could also be used for addiction to methamphetamine and other stimulants.

The research was undertaken at the request of Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Volkow had observed that heroin addicts who also use cocaine are able to cut down on their cocaine abuse when treated with buprenorphine. The drug, which is sold under the brand names Suboxone and Subutex, is itself an opioid drug that carries a risk of dependence. This limits its effectiveness when used alone to treat cocaine abuse since patients may develop an opioid dependency. Naltrexone (brand names Vivitrol and reVia) is known to block many of the addictive opioid effects. When the lowest dose of naltrexone is combined with buprenorphine, cravings for cocaine are reduced without triggering opioid dependence.

Dr. Nora Volkow, below, is a pioneer in the fight against addiction

The first human trials will be conducted on subjects who abuse both heroin and opioids. If the combination of buprenorphine and naltrexone is effective and does not produce withdrawal symptoms, the next step will be testing on people who are addicted to only cocaine. Since cocaine and methamphetamine produce similar effects on the brain, the treatment also holds hope for meth addicts.

George Koob of the Scripps Institute, leader of the study, suggests that the drug combination may also be used to treat:

  • Chronic pain
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depression
  • Cchizophrenia

Like cocaine dependency, these disorders involve dopamine release and kappa receptors in the brain.

According to Time magazine, more than 1 million people in the U.S. are dependent on cocaine and several hundred thousand more are dependent on other types of stimulants. Since buprenorphine and naltrexone are existing drugs with FDA approval, this new drug combination could be available soon to help break the cycle of stimulant addiction.

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