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An extended-release drug to treat alcohol and opioid dependence can lead to savings in healthcare costs, even though the drug itself is expensive, a new study concludes.

The drug, extended-release Naltrexone, is injected once a month, and costs about $1,100 per injection. The researchers said the drug appears to be significantly more effective than some other medications, because more patients continue using it, compared with cheaper medications that must be taken daily.

The study evaluated five previous trials of the drug, which included 1,565 patients who received extended-release Naltrexone compared to other therapies for six months.

The researchers found patients who used extended-release Naltrexone had generally lower overall costs, compared with patients using other alcohol-dependence treatments. Patients using extended-release Naltrexone were in detoxification and inpatient treatment facilities for fewer days than those who received other treatments, MedicalXpress reports.

Patients using extended-release Naltrexone stuck with their treatment longer than those using the medications acamprosate or oral naltrexone. The study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, was funded by Alkermes, the company that makes Naltrexone.

“Historically, oral medications for substance abuse have not often been prescribed or found to have a high degree of success, mostly because patients stopped taking them,” lead author Dan Hartung of Oregon State University/Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy, said in a news release. “But there are patients who are committed to treating their problems and data showed that they clearly appear to have success with extended-release Naltrexone, which is administered just once a month.”

The Affordable Care Act may allow more patients to have access to medications that treat opioid and alcohol dependence, the article notes.

“There has always been some reluctance on the part of health care practitioners, as well as the patients they are treating, to use prescription medication to treat a substance abuse problem,” Hartung said. “Medication-assisted therapy is underutilized.”


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