Opiate Blockade: Implants for Opiate Addiction

A medical expert preparing a patient for an implant to treat opiate addiction.

November 23, 2023

Opiate Blockade

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 115,000 people died of opioid overdose in 2017 alone, and recent estimations show that the numbers are rising. Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a global issue, and several nations are developing and implementing new ways of treating it. In many parts of the world, implants for opiate addiction are now approved for adults that suffer from opioid dependence.

This article will teach you about the implants that are used for treating opiate addiction and how they work. You will also learn about the side effects and safety of these implants, and what to do if you are interested in knowing more.

What are implants for opiate addiction and how do they work?

Treating opioid dependence is not a simple task. Treatment often includes long months of taking sublingual, oral, and other ingestible medications. This method of treatment can lead to drug misuse and abuse, accidental overdose, poor adherence to the treatment plan, or even the exposure of medication to people that are not meant to take it.

Another option is now available for adults that suffer from OUD and fit certain criteria一implants for opiate addiction. Implants work in much the same way as other forms of opioid replacement therapy and addiction treatment, as they both use the medications buprenorphine and naltrexone.

Buprenorphine implants consist of four small rods being implanted into a patient’s upper arm or in the abdomen area, which release small amounts of buprenorphine consistently for up to 6 months. The effects on the patient are similar to the effects experienced when buprenorphine is taken orally or sublingually, but the implant ensures steady treatment and prevents drug misuse.

A medical expert preparing a patient for an implant to treat opiate addiction.

Naltrexone implants work similarly, as pellets get inserted under the skin and consistently release low doses of the drug for up to 6 months. While naltrexone doesn’t treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, it does prevent euphoric feelings caused by opioids, making it another effective implant option.

Implants for opiate addiction are useful due to their extra benefits. They ensure that the patient stays on track with treatment, and they last for a relatively long period of time. This is especially useful for people that have difficulty taking their medication regularly, or for people that are more prone to relapsing.

What is opiate (opioid) replacement therapy?

Opioid replacement therapy involves treating addictions to highly dangerous substances such as heroin with more controlled, longer acting, and less “rewarding”  prescription medications. Originally, the only mediation used in this process was the full opioid agonist methadone. Buprenorphine was eventually introduced as another viable option. 

Both of these medications protected against overdose and encouraged sobriety by reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings without causing the same kind of “high” feeling.

A patient taking their daily dose of opioid replacement therapy medication.

This kind of treatment takes time, as the goal is to slowly reduce the patient’s dependence on opioids. As more dangerous opioids are replaced with medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, it is possible for a new drug dependence to develop. For this reason, it is important that opioid replacement therapy medications are not misused in any way. Not only can misuse lead to addiction, but it may also lead to relapse and overdose, which can be dangerous.

The possibility of adverse experiences with traditional opioid replacement therapy is one of the reasons why implants have the potential for success in many cases. Implants can act as a replacement for oral or sublingual tablets, injections, and other forms of replacement medications. With an implant, it is much less likely that a patient will overdose or forget to take their medication, which could lead to a relapse.

Curious to know more? Contact us today to talk to an expert of the clinic about the possibilities that come with implants for opiate addiction treatment>>>

Naltrexone implant

As mentioned above, naltrexone implants consist of pellets that get inserted under the skin and consistently release low doses of the drug over about 2-6 months. The length of treatment depends on the individual’s specific situation, just as it does with more traditional treatment methods. 

Naltrexone does not prevent withdrawal symptoms as buprenorphine can, but it does block the opioid receptors in the brain from firing when opioids are taken. This reduces or eliminates the euphoric effects of opioids, which helps to reduce drug cravings and prevent relapse, abuse, and overdose. Naltrexone itself poses virtually no risk of addiction or overdose. 

A review published in the Drug and Alcohol Review in 2014 found that across 9 studies, naltrexone implants were more effective at preventing a patient’s use of opioids than both placebo implants and oral naltrexone.

Buprenorphine implant

Buprenorphine implants slowly release buprenorphine into the body for up to 6 months. As stated above, the implantation process involves four small rods being injected into a patient’s abdomen or upper arm. This method of addiction treatment ensures that the patient does not accidentally overdose on buprenorphine pills or sublingual tablets and that they stay on schedule with their treatment plan. 

The consistent release of buprenorphine in the body reduces cravings, helps manage lingering withdrawal symptoms, and reduces the “high” sensation that is caused by many opioids. All of these effects are intended to help suppress opioid use and keep the patient sober and on the path of recovery from addiction. Unlike naltrexone, buprenorphine addiction is possible, but the nature of the implant makes it difficult to abuse it or develop a dependence.

The implant is also thought to be equally, if not more, effective than traditional methods. One buprenorphine implant trial reported on by the European Medicines Agency shows that 96.4% of patients with the implant responded to treatment as opposed to 87.6% of those treated with sublingual buprenorphine.

Possible side effects of implants for opiate addiction

 A woman experiencing a headache due to buprenorphine implant

Like any medication, it is possible for buprenorphine and naltrexone implants to cause side effects, though they are usually mild. In addition to traditional buprenorphine side effects, the buprenorphine implant may cause some of the following uncomfortable reactions:

  • Irritation, swelling, itching, or pain at the implantation site
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Back pain
  • Sore throat
  • Changes in mood

These side effects are somewhat common and can be expected to fade on their own. Intense or unusual reactions should be reported to your healthcare professional. Naltrexone implants can also cause some minor adverse side effects, including:

  • Irritation, swelling, itching, or pain at the implantation site
  • Severe headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps

The above lists are not complete, and any unusual or severe reactions should be shared with your doctor promptly.

Are implants safe?

One study suggests that buprenorphine implants are just as safe as sublingual buprenorphine/naloxone tablets (BNX) in the treatment of opiate addiction. Adverse events (AEs) experienced by patients in all groups in this study were described as mild in nature, with many of them being related to implant-site irritation. 

The other most common AE was headaches. Overall, patients in the BNX group of the study experienced more AEs than the group with buprenorphine implants. The same study reported that there were no serious adverse events (SAEs) that were directly related to the buprenorphine implant treatment.

Though studies regarding both buprenorphine and naltrexone implants are still ongoing, both of these treatment methods are generally considered to be safe. Naltrexone implants have even been used to help pregnant heroin users safely subdue their use with no ill effects on the mother or the child.

Learn more about using implants for opiate replacement therapy

Both naltrexone implants and buprenorphine implants have benefits and drawbacks. To find the best fit for you, get in contact with us today to talk with an expert of the clinic.

Addiction can be beaten. There are many effective resources available to help you or a loved one in the fight against addiction. If you think that an implant for opiate addiction is the right choice for you, contact us to learn more about the process and to discuss the potential outcomes.

You are not alone. An implant used for opiate addiction treatment could be exactly what you need to get your life back. Reach out to us to get your questions answered>>>

Frequently asked questions 

How do implants for opiate addiction work?

Rods or pellets are implanted underneath the skin, commonly in the upper arm, and they consistently release either naltrexone or buprenorphine for around 2-6 months. The consistent release of buprenorphine reduces drug cravings and making relapse less likely. The release of naltrexone encourages drug abstinence by preventing the presence of a “high” when opioids are taken. Both of these implants are helpful for those that have a history of relapse and for those that need help staying on a treatment regimen. 

What are some possible side effects of these implants?

For both kinds of implants, side effects may include a reaction at the implantation site. This can include irritation, itching, pain, swelling, bruising, and slight bleeding. The buprenorphine implant may cause headaches, nausea, back pain, a sore throat, and mood changes. The naltrexone implant may cause headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, and fatigue.

Are implants for opiate addiction safe?

Both implants are generally considered to be safe. Buprenorphine implants have been shown to be as safe and effective as sublingual tablets. Naltrexone has also been shown to be safe, which can be seen in a study involving pregnant heroin users that used the naltrexone implant and experienced no adverse symptoms. Research on the safety and efficacy of both buprenorphine and naltrexone implants is ongoing.

Published on November 23, 2023
Dr Vorobjev Clinic team

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