There are multiple medications available to help people recover from opioid dependency. Among these is the medication naltrexone, which hinders the euphoric effects of opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers. Naltrexone is used as a component of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which combines counseling with medication to create a “whole-patient approach” that holistically addresses a person’s addiction (SAMHSA, 2016)

To understand how naltrexone works, we need to learn a little about how opioids function in the body. Opioids are recognized as a family of drugs because they all act on the opioid receptors in the nervous system: they trigger the release of the chemical dopamine from these receptors, which is responsible for the euphoric feelings and pain relief that one experiences while taking heroin, codeine, or other opioids (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017).  This makes these drugs opioid receptor agonists.

In contrast, naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning that it blocks opioid receptors. If someone has taken naltrexone and then later takes a painkiller, the painkiller won’t be able to trigger the release of dopamine because the naltrexone has already blocked the receptors. It therefore reduces cravings and prevents the high that makes opioids so dangerous (SAMHSA, 2016).

Naltrexone is available in pill form (taken every day or several times a week) or in a long-term injectable form called Vivitrol (injected once a month). Patients interested in naltrexone or Vivitrol need to have completed medically managed detoxification at least 7-10 days before starting it and should be highly motivated to comply with the drug regimen.

See for more information on the side effects and risks of naltrexone.  Naltrexone is also used for alcohol dependency treatment.

Clinics offering naltrexone/Vivitrol services in Memphis:

First Step Recovery Centers 300 N Bellevue Blvd., Memphis, TN  38105 • 901-522-1002

Bradford Health Services 8566 Cordes Cir, Germantown, TN 38139 • 901-755-8111

Any healthcare provider that is licensed to prescribe medication can prescribe naltrexone.  

Further Reading:

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