What is Vivitrol? Everything You Need To Know

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Vivitrol is a prescription medication used to manage opioid addiction as well as chronic alcoholism.

This prescription injectable has become an increasingly common way to treat alcohol and opioid dependence and is often used as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Before you take Vivitrol (or if you are considering taking the medication), it is important to know what to expect and how it works.

In this article, we will cover exactly what Vivitrol is and some of the various benefits, and risks associated with it.

Read on to learn more about:

  • What Vivitrol is
  • The uses of Vivitrol 
  • The benefits of Vivitrol
  • How to take Vivitrol
  • The side effects of Vivitrol
  • Who is not able to take Vivitrol
  • How to get the medication
  • How much Vivitrol costs
  • Insurance coverage for Vivitrol.

Let’s get into it!

What is Vivitrol?

Vivitrol is an FDA-approved medication used to treat opioid addiction as well as opioid dependence.

Vivitrol contains the active ingredient Naltrexone, which is an opioid antagonist.

What this means is that it binds to and blocks the opioid receptors in the brain.

This stops drugs and prescription opioid-containing medicines that contain opioids from binding and therefore stops the effects of opioid-containing products.

It is also thought to affect the reward pathway in the brain involved in alcohol dependency, thereby helping people with chronic alcoholism in recovery.

It is prescribed to people who suffer from addiction to opioid pain medicines, recreational drugs such as heroin, people at risk of overdose, and people who suffer from Alcohol Use Disorders.

Vivitrol is administered as an extended-release injection once a month by a healthcare professional.

Uses of Vivitrol

Vivitrol is FDA-approved for people who suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder. It is also used to prevent relapse in people with a dependence on opioids who have undergone detoxification.

The medication blocks the effects of opioids and also helps to treat opioid cravings.

Treatment of alcohol dependence

While the mechanism of action is not completely understood, Vivitrol is thought to block the euphoric effects of alcohol consumption in people who suffer from alcoholism. This helps people to control alcohol cravings during their recovery.

Vivitrol is usually used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan along with psychological support to help identify the underlying causes of alcohol dependency.

Clinical trials have shown that people with an alcohol addiction who are taking Vivitrol are more likely to reduce their drinking and have an increased assistance rate, compared to people who were not taking the medication.

Prevention of relapse to opioid dependence, after opioid detox

One of the most common uses for Vivitrol is for the prevention of relapse in people who have addictions to opioids and are in recovery.

It blocks the effects of opioid drugs, and prevents the euphoria associated with taking opioid medications, thereby helping to prevent relapse.

Vivitrol can only be used when you have undergone opioid detoxification and are no longer experiencing opioid withdrawals.

It is important that you no longer have any amounts of opioids in your system, as Vivitrol administration will cause symptoms of opioid withdrawal without proper detoxification.

To ensure that detoxification has finished, healthcare professionals may do a Naloxone challenge.

A Naloxone challenge involves the healthcare worker administering small amounts of the medication to make sure it is safe, and that you are not experiencing sudden opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

The Benefits of Vivitrol  

Reduced cravings for opioids or alcohol

Vivitrol works by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain that get activated when someone uses opioids or alcohol and is partially responsible for the ‘high’ they experience. By blocking these receptors, Vivitrol helps to control cravings for alcohol and opioid drugs

Helps prevent relapse

By removing the euphoric effects that alcohol and opioids can have on the brain, these drugs become less rewarding to the brain and therefore decrease relapse rates.

Studies have found that Vivitrol helps to lower opioid relapse rates, as well as helping people with alcoholism maintain sobriety for longer than with other treatments

Long-acting formulation (monthly injection)

Vivitrol has the added benefit of being administered only once every 4 weeks. Healthcare providers will often recommend this as it means you do not have to remember to take a pill every day.

It also means that if you are feeling demotivated or experiencing a triggering time, you do not need to rely on taking a pill for the medication to have an effect

Supports recovery by blocking opioid receptors

By blocking opioid receptors, Vivitrol can help support recovery – especially when taken under the guidance of healthcare providers working in drug recovery programs. By controlling cravings, it can help people focus on behavioral therapies to overcome addiction

Non-Addictive

Unlike other medications that are often prescribed as part of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder, Vivitrol is not considered addictive.

This is because, unlike other medications, it does not activate opioid receptors in the brain, but rather blocks their actions

Improved quality of life

Vivitrol has the potential to help people maintain their sobriety, which has numerous positive effects on people’s quality of life.

Sobriety helps to strengthen and rebuild relationships, ensure financial stability, and bring control back to someone’s life.

The Administration and Dosage of Vivitrol: How To Take Vivitrol

Once you have been prescribed Vivitrol either for Opioid Use Disorder or Alcohol Use Disorder, it will be administered as a monthly injection by a healthcare professional.

Before your first appointment, you will be asked to submit a urine or blood test to make sure there are no opioids in your system as their presence will make it unsafe for you to receive the injection.

During these appointments, a dose of 380 mg will be given once a month. This is typically administered as an intramuscular injection in the buttocks (gluteal injection) once every 4 weeks; i.e. monthly.

After the administration of Vivitrol, you will have several follow-up appointments to check for opioid withdrawal symptoms, injection site reactions, and any other common side effects.

During these appointments, it is important to report any adverse effects of this injectable medicine to your doctor.

It is also important that you attend any other treatment appointments, including behavioral therapy and counseling sessions, for the best outcomes.

The Side Effects of Vivitrol

Whilst severe reactions are rare, it is important to seek medical advice if you experience any side effects that you are concerned about.

They may be able to prescribe another form of naltrexone or emergency medical treatment, if necessary.

Potential side effects may include:

  • Cold symptoms such as runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Allergic reactions
  • Muscle cramps and muscle aches
  • Painful joints
  • Injection site reactions such as bruising
  • Signs of liver damage
  • Symptoms of opioid withdrawal in people who have not fully detoxified
  • Severe injection reactions.

Overdose Risk: People who have taken Vivitrol may be at higher risk of opioid overdose if they try to overcome the opioid receptor blocking by taking very high doses of opioids.

People who have taken Vivitrol for a long period of time and have stopped receiving Vivitrol injections may also have an increased sensitivity to opioids, putting them at higher risk.

Individuals Ineligible for Vivitrol Treatment

While many people may find benefits from Vivitrol, it may not be safe for everyone to take.

It is important to discuss your medical history, along with drug or alcohol use honestly with your doctor before taking the medication.

People who may not be able to take Vivitrol include:

  • People in active opioid addiction: Vivitrol is not safe for people to take while in active addiction. This is because it may cause severe opioid withdrawal symptoms. It may also put people at risk of overdose if they try to take high doses of opioids in order to overcome the blockage effects of Vivitrol. Before being prescribed the medication, you will need to prove you have no opioids in your system
  • People with known allergies: People who have had allergic reactions to naltrexone, or ​​other components in the medication, are unable to receive the injections
  • People with liver disease: Because Vivitrol is mostly broken down by the liver, it is important that your liver function is adequate to expel the medication. Your doctor may ask for liver function tests to make sure Vivitrol is safe for you to take.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers: Vivitrol is not recommended in breastfeeding or expecting mothers, unless in some exceptional circumstances.

How To Get Vivitrol

1. Visiting Your Doctor

Vivitrol is a prescription-only medication.

If you are concerned about your opioid use (whether that be because of your use of medicines for pain, or non-prescription medicines/ drugs), you can discuss the possibility of Vivitrol injections with your healthcare provider.

Alternatively, if you are concerned about your alcohol intake, you may also be able to be prescribed the medication.  

2. Running Medical Tests

After meeting with your doctor and discussing if the medication is suitable for you, they may run some tests to make sure it is safe for you to take.

One of the tests they will do is a urine test, to make sure there are no opioids in your body.  

3. Administration of Vivitrol

Once prescribed, you will visit a medical facility that is able to administer Vivitrol. They will likely monitor you to make sure there are no adverse reactions to the medication.

4. Attending Follow-up Appointments

You will be asked to attend follow-up appointments to check on your progress and look for any side effects which may be able to be treated with other medications.

How Much is Vivitrol?

The cost of Vivitrol varies greatly depending on insurance coverage, and other payment schemes which are often available to help pay for the cost of the medication.

The average out-of-pocket cost of Vivitrol, without any insurance coverage, is around $1,200 to $1,300 per month.

If you meet the eligibility criteria, there are support schemes that will help to pay for this cost.

For example, Alkermes, the manufacturer of Vivitrol, offers a patient assistance program called the Vivitrol Patient Assistance Program that helps pay for the cost of the medication.

There are also different formulations of naltrexone such as oral naltrexone, which is often significantly cheaper than the injectable version.

Insurance for Vivitrol

Most insurance companies will cover the cost, or part of the cost, of your treatment.

However, there are often significant variations between insurance schemes, as well as co-payments and deductibles. It is best to check with your insurance provider and ask about the coverage of Vivitrol. 

For people without healthcare insurance or who quality for Medicaid coverage, this may help them pay for the cost of the medication.

Final Thoughts

Vivitrol is an FDA-approved medication that is given as a monthly injection​​ to help people with opioid and alcohol addictions manage their sobriety.

The medication helps​​ to prevent the rewarding feelings associated with substance use and thereby helps control cravings.

Vivitrol is proven to help people maintain their sobriety and is used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes psychological support such as therapy and counseling, to help people in recovery.

While Vivitrol helps many people who face addiction, it is important to know that it is not suitable for everyone and that some people may experience some side effects.

It is important to discuss these with your doctor before taking the medication and to continue to attend follow-up appointments.

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