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Exclusive: Health Officials Urge Insurance Coverage for Drug Addiction Medication
Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, made such a call in a commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“When prescribed and monitored properly, medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone are safe and cost-effective components of opioid addiction treatment,” Volkow said.
“These medications can improve lives and reduce the risk of overdose, yet medication-assisted therapies are markedly underutilized.”
The commentary was co-authored by officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Indeed, many patients are not aware that drug addiction can be fought also by drugs, with complementary counseling. A lot of addiction treatment providers may push for abstinence but in many cases, that is not enough, resulting in relapse of the patients.
Volkow said “a number of barriers” result in low access to medication assisted therapies (MAT). This includes misunderstandings about the medications, with people feeling that it will “merely replace one addiction with another.”
If such a call is heard and acted upon, expanded coverage and better access to MATs will benefit 2.5 million Americans addicted to opioids, more than half of which have never received medication for their addictions.
Investors can also expect a positive outcome for companies offering such therapies. Pharmaceutical companies will most likely pounce on the opportunity to further the distribution and sale of their drugs.
Methadone is manufactured by a number of pharmaceutical companies and has long been administered in heroin clinics in the US. It was first introduced in the country by Eli Lilly and Company (LLY) under the trade name Dolophine. Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals (MNK) also has its own branded generic Methadose.
However, while methadone is said to be effective in reducing cravings for heroin and other narcotics, it also has a potential for abuse.
On the other hand, naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist that does not result in addiction – unlike other medications – and is used primarily to treat alcohol and opioid dependence. It is marketed under the trade names Revia and Vivitrol, among others.
Vivitrol, manufactured by Alkermes Inc. (ALKS) is a prescription medicine in injectable form while Revia, a trademark of Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), comes in tablet form.
BioCoRx (OTC: BICX), a company that offers naltrexone in implantable pellet form, claims that the drug is able to reduce cravings within two to three hours.
“Medicines like Naltrexone are very effective in virtually eliminating those cravings and we have one of the longest lasting implants in the world to help address the cravings,” said Brady Grainier, COO of BioCoRx.
Grainier explains that the pellet form of naltrexone is inserted in the lower abdominal area under the skin in the fatty issue. The procedure is done by a doctor and takes 20 to 30 minutes under local anesthesia.
“Our implant removes the compliance issue from patients so they don’t need to decide to take a pill every day to stop cravings. That’s typically hard for them to do. Our implant has been reported to last 6-12 months in most patients, giving them a longer window to work on the psycho-social aspect of the addiction,” he said, adding that the other half of their drug addiction treatment includes life coaching sessions.
He added that many of their patients had already tried conventional methods of treating drug addiction but without success.
“I think those methods (such as counseling) are good, but I feel that treating the physical addiction prior to entering those programs would be better, especially for those that simply can’t resist the physical need to abuse,” Grainier said.
Buprenorphine, sold by Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals (RBGPF) under the trade name Suboxone, was the first drug approved in 2002 for opioid addiction. Although reports said over three million Americans were treated with buprenorphine, some say it has been overprescribed and misused, eve becoming a street drug.