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What Is a Naltrexone Implant?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Naltrexone is a medication that can prevent an addict from experiencing pleasure from drugs or alcohol. It works by blocking certain receptors in the brain that respond to alcohol and opiate drugs, such as heroin and certain painkillers. A naltrexone implant is placed under the skin of a person undergoing addiction treatment and slowly releases the medication over time.

A person who is addicted to opiate drugs can use a naltrexone implant as part of a recovery plan. The implant is made of a substance that dissolves over time in the body, releasing the drug slowly. It works for up to three months.

The naltrexone binds to opiate receptors that were previously stimulated by the addict's drug of choice. With the receptors blocked, the drug produces the same effects as usual, but the addict feels less pleasure from taking the drug. This alteration of an addict's brain chemistry also means that cravings for a substance can become weaker and easier to overcome.

The treatment is also available in a pill or as an injection. Addicts may need to take the pill form every day and receive a new injection every month. The advantage of delivering naltrexone in a slow-release implant is that the patient does not have to remember to take the medication regularly and cannot skip doses if he or she feels like it. A disadvantage of delivering the drug in an implant form is that surgery is necessary to remove it if the naltrexone produces unpleasant side effects.

Mild side effects from the naltrexone include gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and muscle or joint pain. Less common side effects are dizziness, chills, and an increase in heart rate. Severe issues that necessitate medical advice include depression, hallucinations, and chest pain.

The procedure of implantation also carries a risk of infection or inflammation. The withdrawal from a drug can be unpleasant for the addict. If a person who has a naltrexone implant suffers severe pain from an accident or medical issue, the implant will interfere with the painkilling effect of medical drugs, and so the implant may have to be removed.

A drug rehabilitation program that includes the naltrexone implant also needs to help addicts with behavioral issues. As the implant only helps protect against opiate drugs and alcohol, the addict may begin abusing other drugs as a replacement for the previous addiction. Even though the experience of taking drugs may be lessened, an addicted person is still at risk of overdose.

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