The positives and negatives of Vivitrol
Articles / Blog

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06-24-16 Category: Recovery, Substance Abuse, Treatment


There isn’t much in the way of good news regarding opioids these days. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) notes since 2001, heroin overdose deaths have increased 600 percent. Vivitrol appears to be a bright spot on the horizon. According to one study, this once-a-month injection cuts the risk of relapse in half. But the treatment isn’t perfect. Vivitrol comes with serious side effects and a serious tab.

How it works

Vivitrol binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This prevents the euphoria that opioids produce and addicts crave. Vivitrol also prevents cravings. Because it is an opiate antagonist, it will produce withdrawal symptoms if the person has opioids in his or her system. Detox is necessary prior to starting Vivitrol. Anyone taking the drug should also refrain from drinking because this diminishes its effectiveness.

The upside: results

The study involved 300 subjects. The majority were middle-aged males who had been recently released from prison. Roughly 90 percent of the subjects were addicted to heroin. For six months, half of the subjects – group A — received referrals to relapse prevention facilities, counseling and prescriptions for either methadone or Suboxone. The other half – group B –received counseling and Vivitrol.

Over 60 percent of group A relapsed compared to 40 percent for group B. One year after treatment, seven participants in group A overdosed; no one in group B overdosed.

The downside: Side effects

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a six-page medication guide on Vivitrol, the first two pages of which focus on side effects. These include:

  1. 1. Risk of overdose. Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist. Individuals who try to circumvent its effectiveness by taking more and more drugs can lapse into a coma or die.
  1. 2. Vivitrol’s blocking properties dissipate and stop over time. It is dangerous for anyone to take opioids if he or she has stopped or is between Vivitrol injections. Again, coma or death may result.
  1. 3. Injection site reaction. Some Vivitrol users have reported pain, swelling, blisters, even necrosis at the injection site. Others report open wounds and lumps developing at the site.
  1. 4. Vivitrol contains Naltrexone, which can cause hepatitis or liver damage.

Another antagonist

The FDA approved Vivitrol as a treatment for opioid addiction in 2010. If the name is unfamiliar to most readers, it’s because Vivitrol is not widely used and the reason, according to Joshua Lee, is the price. Lee is an associate professor at New York University Langone Medical Center and the lead researcher of the study. “There’s sticker shock when you tell people it costs $1,200 a month,” he says. He adds that is roughly the same cost for hepatitis C and HIV medications.

Lee says it is a mistake to think of Vivitrol as a magic bullet. He notes it does not work with cocaine or heavy drinking, and it was no more effective in reducing the rate of recidivism of the study subjects than was traditional treatment.

Sovereign Health Group provides traditional and nontraditional treatment for opiate addiction. Our clinicians treat the physical ravages of addiction as well as the underlying causes that fuel it. Contact our 24/7 helpline to learn about our programs, our staff and our facility.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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