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New hope for heroin users: Naltrexone implants.

A study at the University of Western Australia has found that heroin addicts with naltrexone implants are far less likely to return to heroin use than those taking oral tablets.

But critics are sceptical about the study and say that naltrexone is still a risky option for drug users trying to kick the habit.

Naltrexone is a drug which blocks the effects of heroin on the brain. It is usually taken as a tablet, but if heroin users stop taking the pill they often fall back into drug use.

That is why scientists have been working on an implant which automatically releases naltrexone into the body.

Gary Hulse from the University Of Western Australia is confident about the naltrexone’s success.

“It means that you’ve got a a one-stop shop. People can come in, they receive their treatment or implant and for five months or six months, they carry that treatment with them,” he said.

The six-month trial involved 69 heroin users. Fifty-four completed the trial. Of the 28 participants who received a naltrexone tablet, 15 returned to regular heroin use. Of the 26 people who received a naltrexone implant, just two returned to heroin use.

Researchers like Mr Hulse say it is a good result for naltrexone implants.

“This is a relatively safe and a treatment which has good clinical outcomes,” he said.

The study is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but the team at the University of Western Australia are confident the research will be well received.

“I’m not only confident that it’ll be published in a peer review but I would be surprised if this wasn’t accepted by one of the extremely high rating journals,” said Mr Hulse.

But critics like Dr Alex Wodak, from the Alcohol And Drug Services at Vincents Hospital in Sydney, have little time for the new study.

“The paper hasn’t been published yet in a scientific journal and so therefore, it’s the equivalent of hearsay in a court of law. That is, it’s not really evidence,” he said.

Naltrexone is a controversial drug. The implants are yet to be approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and there have been mixed results for heroin users.

Some patients have stopped using heroin after receiving an implant. But others have cut them out of their body or suffered serious side effects.

“The implants, I know for a fact, were at one stage required by the therapeutic goods administration to be stamped, not for use in human subjects, and the authors have conceded that to me in writing,” said Dr Wodak.

But researchers such as Moira Sim from the Naltrexone Trial Independent Monitoring Committee say the implants used in the Perth trial were approved by the TGA.

“The committee reviewed all the processes that the trial went through and we are confident that they followed the correct processes that the data was collected properly, and therefore I’m very confident in the results of the trial,” she said.

The researchers say the next step will be to conduct a trial comparing naltrexone implants with methadone and other drugs used to control heroin addiction.
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source: ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au

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