Alcohol and pills

New Information: The Downside of Addiction Treatment Drugs

According to an new article in Scientific American, there is a big downside to the use of opioid blockers like naloxone and naltrexone in addiction recovery. It’s important that anyone recommending or endorsing the use of opioid blockers understand the full effects of these drugs. We’ll help you understand this slightly complicated issue.

Naloxone and Naltrexone – What are They?

Both these drugs are opioid blockers which means they interfere with the effects of opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone or heroin. Naloxone is given as an antidote for an opioid overdose. After a heroin overdose, for example, a dose of naloxone will bring a person out of the overdose in just seconds, if it is given in time.

Naloxone is also an ingredient in Suboxone, a drug that is currently prescribed to hundreds of thousands of people in addiction treatment programs. Right now, there are more than 30,000 medical practitioners authorized to prescribe Suboxone to 30 to 100 patients at a time and some are able to prescribe to 275.

Naltrexone is another kind of opioid blocker that’s chemically similar to naloxone but longer-lasting. It is being recommended for those in recovery from opioid addiction or alcoholism. When used in alcoholism recovery programs, naltrexone use is associated with lower rates of harmful drinking, but not sobriety.

How Medication-Assisted Treatment Employ These Two Drugs

Naloxone and naltrexone are used in “medication-assisted treatment” programs, referred to as MAT. The two most popular forms of MAT are:

  • Methadone clinics where a person in recovery picks up a dose of methadone each day
  • The prescribing of Suboxone by the authorized practitioners we mentioned earlier.

Both methadone and Suboxone contain an addictive opioid that prevents an addicted person from going into withdrawal and satisfies their need for opioids, helping them to stop seeking drugs on the illicit market. Suboxone includes naloxone as a deterrent to prevent people from dissolving this drug and injecting it so they can get high. If a patient tries injecting Suboxone, the naloxone triggers withdrawal pain and sickness.

Prescribing naltrexone for opioid addiction or alcoholism is not as yet widespread but the practice is gaining support.

So What’s the Problem with Prescribing Opioid Blockers?

For that answer, we return to the Scientific American article. The focus of the article is on the way that communities with low levels of “social capital” have higher rates of drug overdoses. They define social capital as:

“a measure of connection and support that incorporates factors including people’s trust in one another and participation in civic matters such as voting.”

It’s really not surprising that a community with lower levels of connection and trust would see more overdoses. Drug and alcohol use are ways individuals can escape from negative feelings and problems in their lives instead of facing and overcoming them.

The article then takes a look at fact that use of opioid blockers like naloxone and naltrexone themselves contributed to lower levels of social connectedness and feelings of being loved.

Here’s another quote from this article (emphasis added):

“A study published last year found that administering an opioid blocker decreased people’s feelings of social connectedness—both when they were in the lab receiving e-mails of support from close friends or relatives and when they were at home during the four days they took the drug—compared with when they took a placebo. And, whereas the drug reduced overall levels of positive emotion, it had a larger effect on positive emotions related to feeling connected and loved.
Teenager addicted

So what would happen if MAT programs become the most popular ways to treat addiction? We could have as many as 18 million people being prescribed opioid blockers. Which means we could have 18 million people whose feelings of being connected with others and being loved were reduced by this drug.

If MAT were the only way to help people recover from addiction, then MAT might be necessary and this side effect might be acceptable. The problem there is that MAT is not the only way to rescue a person from the ruinous burden of addiction to opioids or alcohol. Since 1966, the Narconon drug rehab program has successfully helped tens of thousands of people recover from the need for drugs or alcohol.

Narconon is an abstinence-based program. It employs a deep detoxification step to freshen a person’s outlook and alleviate cravings, and a thorough life skills component that helps a person leave trauma behind and begin to more successfully cope with life's challenges.

Some people may tell you that MAT is the only way a person can avoid relapse. Actually, there are many programs that believe that abstinence is both healthy and possible. You have a choice.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.