A new study from UCLA finds that the drug naltrexone may be an effective treatment for methamphetamine addiction. The drug is currently used to treat narcotic addiction and alcohol addiction, but this is the first study in the United States to find promising results for methamphetamine treatment.
The UCLA researchers analyzed 30 people (22 men and eight women) who used methamphetamine three to four days a week. The patients were admitted to the hospital for two four-day visits, during which they were given either naltrexone or a placebo. Patients who received naltrexone during the first visit were given the placebo during the second visit, and those who initially received the placebo were later given the drug.
The researchers gave each patient an intravenous injection of methamphetamine on the last day of each visit, and then checked in with the patients three hours later to evaluate their cravings for the meth and their physiological reactions to the drug and to drug paraphernalia.
Naltrexone Reduced Meth Cravings, Physical Arousal
They found that naltrexone reduced methamphetamine cravings and reduced the symptoms of physiological arousal associated with the actual drug and with the patients’ drug paraphernalia. The patients who had been given naltrexone had significantly lower heart rates and pulse readings than the patients who had been given the placebo.
Naltrexone appeared to inhibit the rewarding effects of methamphetamine, thereby reducing the patients’ feelings of pleasure when taking the drug and reducing their cravings for the drug after it had worn off.
Naltrexone Does Not Prevent Withdrawal Symptoms
Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, which means that it blocks opioid receptors in the brain and prevents the pleasurable “high” associated with narcotic use. Research has also suggested that the drug is able to block the pleasurable feelings associated with alcohol use and is sometimes used to treat alcohol addiction.
Unlike drugs such as methadone, naltrexone does not prevent withdrawal symptoms in patients who are physically dependent on narcotics. As a result, the drug is only incorporated into addiction treatment after patients have overcome their physical dependence. Furthermore, while naltrexone may be able to reduce alcohol cravings, it does not prevent intoxication from alcohol.
In the UCLA study, the benefits of naltrexone were apparent regardless of whether the patients were given the drug during their first or second visit to the hospital. The benefits were slightly greater for the women than for the men, while still being significant for both sexes. There were no significant side effects reported by any of the patients as a result of taking naltrexone.
Additional Research Underway
Clinical trials sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse are already underway to further evaluate the effectiveness of naltrexone for treating methamphetamine addiction. Lara Ray, lead author of the study and director of the UCLA Addictions Laboratory, is also planning to pursue further research into whether naltrexone would be more effective at treating methamphetamine addiction if it were used in combination with other pharmaceuticals.
There are currently no medications approved by the FDA to treat methamphetamine addiction. Around 12 million people in the U.S. have experimented with this illegal drug, and approximately 400,000 people are suffering from methamphetamine addiction. Methamphetamine use can result in extreme weight loss, severe dental problems, skin sores, visual and auditory hallucinations, psychosis and other physical and mental health problems.
The results of this study were published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.