There is a new option for opioid addiction in the form of a cutting edge treatment. It’s an implant that offers 24 hour relief with no need to take daily medication.
WGN News were there when one of the first patient got the implant in Illinois. It may come as no surprise because of the stigma of the struggle, but she did not want to be identified on camera. But she did know how important it was to get help and speak out about it.
“I was dependent on it. I needed it to function, to work,” she says
It was a cycle that lasted for 10 years. There were daily, high doses of opioids. First Vicodin, then Percocet and oxycodone to ease the severe arthritis pain in her knees, back and hips.
“I was going nowhere,” she says. “When you’re on the opiates for so long, you change, your life changes, you change. You have no drive, you get depressed. Nothing is getting better.”
With the support of her family, counseling and rehab, eventually the now 59-year-old weaned off oxycodone and transitioned to buprenorphine, an opioid replacement medication also known as Suboxone.
“You should never be afraid to take that next step.”
Now, that next step is a buprenorphine implant.
It’s a simple procedure. A small incision is made in the upper arm. That’s where Soft Landing recovery medical director Dr Dora Dixie will implant four rods – each about the size of a match – just under the skin.
“The medication was designed for people who are stable, on 8 mg or less of their buprenorphine product and after they’ve been stable for three months, six months,” says Dr Dixie.
The implants provide a slow and steady release of buprenorphine. After six months patients can opt to have another set implanted, but the FDA hasn’t approved them for longer use, and for some patients, the need for medication replacement can go on for years.
Will one year with the implant be enough?
“We’ll find out,” Dr Dixie says. “The more we do it we’ll find out because we really don’t know yet.”
“Most people don’t have to think about taking a pill,” says the patient. “For six months while that’s in my arm I don’t have to worry about, ‘Oh did I take it?’ I don’t have to worry about taking medication or anything like that or putting it away so nobody will touch it or my kids won’t get into it. It’s fabulous. This will make my life normal.”
The implants may be covered by insurance. If not, the cost is $4900. There is an assistance program available.