This past weekend Americans were shocked and saddened to learn that one of our greatest actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, had died at age 46 of an apparent heroin overdose. Hoffman’s death, in the prime of his life and career, is a poignant reminder of some of the harsh realities of a disease that 17.7 million Americans struggle with and that all too often cuts their lives short.
More than half of heroin-addicted patients treated with naltrexone via an implanted delivery device maintained abstinence throughout a 6-month clinical trial in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The implant device, which releases a steady dose of naltrexone continuously for 2 months, averted relapse to heroin use three times as effectively as daily oral doses of the medication.
Dr. Marilyn Huestis of NIDA’s Intramural Research Program talks about conducting research on drug effects with human subjects, developing tests to help law enforcement identify drugged drivers, and an assay to help identify children whose prenatal exposure to anti-HIV drugs may put them at risk for adverse developmental outcomes.
New vaccines that aim to promote recovery from cocaine and heroin abuse showed promise in animal testing. Both vaccines induced rats’ immune system to produce high titers of antibodies that inhibit the target drug from reaching the brain. The rats’ behaviors when given access to the target drug indicated that the vaccines reduced the reinforcing effects that, in recovering people, can cause lapses to turn into relapses.
Soluble-film preparations of buprenorphine suppressed heroin abusers’ withdrawal symptoms with no serious side effects in a recent clinical trial. They dissolved more rapidly in the mouth than the pill form of the medication, providing faster relief.
Sublingual buprenorphine is a safe and effective alternative to methadone for treating opioid dependence during pregnancy, finds the Maternal Opioid Treatment: Human Experimental Research (MOTHER) study, a NIDA-supported clinical trial. Women who received either medication had similar pregnancy and birth outcomes, but infants born to women who received buprenorphine had milder symptoms of neonatal opioid withdrawal.
Scientists are now one step closer to developing anti-addiction medications, thanks to new research that provides a better understanding of the properties of the only member of the opioid receptor family whose activation counteracts the rewarding effects of addictive drugs.