As the opioid epidemic continues to claim more and more lives each year, researchers are working hard to develop new strategies and medications to treat the disease of addiction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just announced the approval of a unique medication that is designed to treat opioid use disorders, which may be a significant breakthrough in addiction treatment. The medication, called Sublocade, can help ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings for people addicted to opioids. Drugs with the same effects are available on the market, but there’s one major difference. A single dose of Sublocade lasts for an entire month.

How Sublocade Works

Sublocade is essentially the combination of the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine and an innovative drug delivery system called Atrigel. Buprenorphine is an opioid that partially activates the opioid receptors in a way that prevents withdrawal symptoms. It binds to another opioid receptor that is thought to cause drug rewards effects and euphoria and acts as an antagonist, blocking and deactivating the receptor. In other words, buprenorphine stops the cravings and symptoms of opioid withdrawal without causing the very potent euphoric or intoxicating effects associated with opioids such as heroin.

Buprenorphine usually needs to be administered once every day, and it’s typically administered by an approved and accredited clinic or addiction treatment facility. If an opioid-addicted patient is given multiple doses of buprenorphine, they may abuse the drug, which can cause intoxication and dangerous side effects. Buprenorphine is effective in treating withdrawal symptoms, but it also stops cravings, which allows patients to stop seeking illicit drugs. Instead, they are free to seek treatment, focus on self-care, and go through behavioral and social therapies.

Of course, the need for a daily dose increases the need for close regulation. If a person does get a hold of multiple doses at once, they are at risk of drug abuse, side effects, developing an addiction to buprenorphine, and even overdose.

However, Sublocade offers an interesting innovation that changes the way buprenorphine is administered. Using a specialized delivery system, Sublocade allows people with an opioid use disorder to be treated with the drug once a month rather than every day. Under normal circumstances, if you were to give someone a month’s worth of buprenorphine doses all at once, they would overdose. However, the drug is injected with a relatively new method of drug delivery called Atrigel.

Atrigel is injected as a liquid into fatty tissue or muscle and, when it comes into contact with the water in your body, it quickly hardens into a solid bubble. The buprenorphine payload is inside the bubble and slowly leaks out over time. Studies have shown that the medication leaves the bubble and enters the body at a steady rate of two to three nanograms per milliliter. This small but constant stream of the medication can stop opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings for up to a month. The bubble is also biodegradable and will dissolve over time after it is no longer needed.

The idea behind this new medication is to eliminate the need for patients to remember to take daily doses, freeing them to focus on psychosocial treatments and positive life pursuits.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a philosophy of addiction treatment that uses replacement substances to ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms. MAT is available for both opioid and alcohol addiction but MAT for opioids is the most common. This is because more FDA-approved medications exist for opioid addiction and the opioid epidemic has become an increased threat in the last several years.

MAT is based on the idea that reducing the amount of time that a person is using illicit opioids is the primary goal for treatment. Illicit opioid use is inherently dangerous and can lead to infectious diseases and overdose. Thousands of people die every year from opioid overdoses, and the numbers are continuing to rise, partially because of the recent influx of fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids into the black market drug trade. The goal of MAT is to help remove clients from a lifestyle of illicit drug use by helping them avoid withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

The MAT program at Delphi’s New Perspectives facility involves a mixture of medication and clinical services that help people get to the underlying root of their addiction. In some facilities, medications are used indefinitely with no therapies or any intentions of leading to complete sobriety. This can lead to problems like long-term dependence on the medication and intense withdrawal symptoms.

However, medication can also help people find freedom from active addiction, avoid dangerous consequences of addiction, focus on recovery programs, and maintain employment and housing.

Why The New Drug is Significant

Addiction affects people differently. It comes with different contributing factors and co-occurring problems, so treatment must be equally complex and personalized. For some, relapse is a constant threat, and there are many people who struggle with chronic relapse. In those cases, MAT and Sublocade can be valuable tools that keep people in treatment programs for their full duration, allowing them to receive the treatment they need. As a long-lasting, slow-release solution, medication can be one less thing for patients to worry about while they are in treatment.

On the other hand, daily buprenorphine doses are one way that some clinics encourage daily participation in intensive outpatient programs, as a form of contingency management therapy. While Sublocade could conceivably be incorporated into a contingency management setting, it’s clear that this new drug will cause significant changes in the way opioid addiction is treated.

Seeking Addiction Treatment

If you are struggling with an opioid use disorder and you’d like to get out from under the oppression of active addiction, there is help available. Learn more about your addiction treatment options by speaking with an addiction specialist at Delphi Behavioral Health Group at 844-899-5777. Lasting, meaningful recovery may just be a call away.

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