Doctors and pharmaceutical companies have been under scrutiny and criticism for their role in the opioid epidemic which has contributed to heroin usage and fentanyl overdoses. Many claim that manufacturing companies who produce drugs like oxycodone overstated their safety for use as a painkiller and doctors for a long time were not cognizant of the highly addictive properties of the drugs. However, with the high increases of drug users who’s addictions have originated from a doctor’s office, there may be a new option, and it bizarrely involves the use of an opioid blocker typically used in people already addicted or experiencing an overdose.

Dr. Bruce Vrooman, an associate professor at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, took part in a review of a studies that substituted the painkillers with a low dose of naltrexone. “A lot of the evidence that we have to date is superior to many of the medications that have been industry-sponsored and made available through marketing to patients or FDA-approved for specific conditions.”

The cases where it is being most looked at is in patients with chronic pain. Often, doctors will have few options for those with chronic pain and will eventually have to give opioids a try. However, since the 1980’s, some patients and doctors have been singing the praises of using a low dose of naltrexone. According to research, which is still ongoing, the idea is that the low doses of naltrexone dampen inflammation in the body as well as kick-start the body’s production of pain-killing endorphins with a reported low occurrence of side effects.  Naltrexone is normally used to treat alcohol and opioid addictions by shutting down opioid receptors, which send signals of pleasure or ease throughout the body when stimulated by drugs or neurotransmitters from the brain and nervous system.

Currently, however, there’s a few roadblocks to further use and study. The drug itself has been available since the 1950’s, making it essentially a public-domain drug. This means for-profit companies are highly unlikely to fund research into its use for chronic pain as the prize for spending the research money is sole manufacturing rights. Without those exclusive rights, there’s market monopoly over the formula and they’d essentially fund research for their potential competitors. The other problem, also tied up in the profit motive, is that doctors are unlikely to hear about it through their normal means of obtaining new information about medicine because of saturation of the same for-profit companies. There is no marketing campaign letting patients nor doctors know that a generic drug is an option which can alleviate chronic pain nor is there a big push in the academic communities to generate more research into its use.

Discovery InstitutePrevention is a big part of combating the country’s addiction problems that claimed over 70,000 lives last year. The more that non-habit forming drugs become a part of the arsenal of pharmaceutical treatments, the lower the risk is for people to become addicted to a drug seeking medical treatment for other ailments. With chronic pain being among one of the more prominent starting points of opioid addiction, finding new and more effective and non-addictive medications can create echos in the future of healthier people and less people suffering from addiction.

If you or someone you know are seeking drug and rehab centers in New Jersey, Discovery offers drug abuse assistance at 844-478-6563. Substance use disorder is a serious chronic illness that often requires drug addiction rehab and therapy.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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