What is Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is a prescription medication specifically approved by the FDA for treating both opioid dependence and alcohol use disorders. Naltrexone can be taken as either a tablet or an injectable, and most patients are given a dose of 50 milligrams once per day. The injectable form of the drug is called Vivitrol. Vivitrol is given intramuscularly at 380 milligrams once per month. Only licensed healthcare practitioners can administer Naltrexone in any of its forms.
Taking Naltrexone before fully detoxing from opioids or alcohol can cause severe withdrawal side effects. Patients who wish to use Naltrexone will need to abstain from drugs for at least seven to ten days before starting the drug. This includes patients who have used Methadone and are switching to Naltrexone.
How does Naltrexone work?
Opioid drugs produce an intense, highly addictive euphoria that completely rewires the brain’s risk and reward neural pathways. For people addicted to opioids, it can be incredibly challenging to go through the withdrawal process and manage cravings without help from medications combined with customized therapy sessions. Also, people who have achieved initial sobriety from opioids, but relapse, are at high risk of experiencing a fatal overdose. The body quickly loses its tolerance levels to opioid drugs once someone enters a recovery period. Users who are relapsing can take more of an opioid than their body can handle, thinking they still have a tolerance to the drugs. But taking Naltrexone can reduce this risk.
Naltrexone works by blocking the euphoric, soothing effects of opioid drugs. Naltrexone differs from Methadone and Buprenorphine. These medicines activate opioid receptors in the body and help reduce cravings for drugs. Instead, Naltrexone binds and blocks opioid receptors, reducing cravings, and preventing opioid drugs from taking effect if someone relapses. With Naltrexone, there is no risk of abuse or diversion, because the medication doesn’t activate the opioid receptors in the brain at all. People on Naltrexone should not only maintain abstinence from opioids, but they should also avoid sedatives, tranquilizers, and other illicit drugs.
Is Naltrexone the same as Narcan?
It’s essential for people to understand that Naltrexone is not the same as Narcan, also called Naloxone. While these two drugs may look and sound the same, they are fundamentally different. Naltrexone does not reverse the effects of opioids; it blocks the euphoric feeling they produce. Narcan, on the other hand, changes the side effects of powerful opioid drugs like heroin and effectively reverses the course of an overdose. When someone is overdosing on opioids, it is critical that they get swift medical treatment. Many emergency responders carry doses of Narcan with them if they need to reverse a fatal overdose that may arise.