Vivitrol has its dangers, Cleveland Clinic doctor says

Published: Apr. 13, 2016 at 8:38 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 13, 2016 at 10:43 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - With the heroin and opioid epidemic on the rise, the search for addiction relief is in full gear.

But one local doctor has a warning about a treatment being touted as the way to a cure -- Vivitrol.

While there's certainly reason to believe it can help someone break their opioid addiction if it's done the right way, there's also a big heads up...about its potential to make things even worse. has some very compelling success stories, with one woman saying "this is possible...I can do this." A man trying to secure his recovery says "if there's something out there that's going to help me I'm going to us use it."

In fact, it's getting such a name that the Cuyahoga County drug rehab program was given state funding to use Vivitrol with heroin addicts. Director William Denihan is so hopeful saying, "that can stop them from continuing their addiction."

But then there's this:

"The data supporting its use is really limited and what data we have so far suggests that it doesn't stack up," said Dr. Jason Jerry with the Cleveland Clinic's Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center.

He explained the Vivitrol dangers not talked about enough, including, of all things, increased risk of overdose and overdose death.

It's a once-monthly injection that is supposed to lessen an addict's craving by blocking the high from opioids. But Dr. Jerry stresses it's not fool proof.

"Most addicts know if they take enough heroin they can override the blockade," Dr. Jerry said. That means they can get high, even with Vivitrol.

"The problem is the amount needed to get high is very close to the amount needed to kill them," he explained.

There's tremendous risk the drug will backfire if it's not given through a closely monitored program. He also warns about what happens when Vivitrol is stopped.

"Actually, their tolerance level goes below baseline," Dr. Jerry said. "They become much more exquisitely sensitive to the effects of the opiates."

So, should they fall off the wagon, he says it will take a lot less of a narcotic to kill them than before they used Vivitrol.

Denihan says they are definitely going to look more into Dr. Jerry's warnings.

Really the bottom line, as far as the doctor is concerned, is while Vivitrol might do the job, health care providers need to do a better job figuring out how to offset the risks. In the meantime, he believes the older addict breaking drugs should be the "go-to's."

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