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Researchers are studying whether the opioid antagonist naltrexone can help parolees recently released from prison who have a history of opiate addiction and relapse. Initial data indicates these parolees are less likely to be reincarcerated and to relapse.

Charles P. O’Brien, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, notes the initial results, from a pilot study, led to a five-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health being conducted at five sites. Early results from that study suggest parolees taking naltrexone are less likely to relapse and to die from a drug overdose.

“That result is important because there is a very high rate of overdose in former prisoners; they often don’t realize that they have lost their tolerance for opiates,” Dr. O’Brien says in an interview with the Dana Foundation. “The same dose of heroin or oxycodone that used to make them feel good may now kill them. This is a real risk.”

He notes helping prisoners to avoid relapse can save money, since prison costs between $40,000 and $60,000 annually, per bed. “My hope is that the data will convince judges, prosecutors, and parole officers that naltrexone will help addicts stay off drugs, help prisons empty out a bit, and save a lot of money,” he says.


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