Food and Drug Administration (FDA) health officials approved a new device to help curb the opioid and heroin epidemic in the United States. Probuphine is a matchstick-size device designed for implant in a patient’s arm. Over a six month period, the implant releases a daily dose of a mild opioid, buprenorphine, to individuals dependent on painkillers and/or heroin. Rather than quitting cold turkey, the aim is to gradually wean users from addictive substances and increase recovery success rates.
Federal statistics estimate nearly 2.5 million Americans suffer from opioid and heroin addiction disorders. Opioids and heroin were responsible for 28650 fatal overdoses in 2014 alone. The scope of this epidemic creates a great sense of urgency for health officials in search of solutions.
Buprenorphine is already available in oral forms. Patients are able to ingest a pill or place a dissolvable film under their tongue. There are many potential benefits to the implant form:
- It helps patients avoid possible relapse associated with a missed dose of medication.
- The implant could curb drug diversion.
- Accidental poisonings in children could be eliminated.
- Buprenorphine is considered safer than, methadone, the drug used for decades to treat opioid dependence.
- Implants can’t be lost as a pill can.
- Out-of-stock worries at the pharmacy are alleviated when the implant is put in place.
Probuphine implantation comes with potential drawbacks. If the implant moves after insertion, it can cause punctured skin, bruising, nerve damage or infection. For these reasons, doctors must receive special training to administer buprenorphine in this form. To minimize risks, patients are required to see their physician for follow-up and counseling one week after receiving the implant and every month going forward. Counseling and other forms of support are crucial for recovery.
The implant, created by Braeburn Pharmaceuticals and Titan Pharmaceuticals Inc., is intended for those already stabilized on low-to-medium doses of buprenorphine for at least half a year. Braeburn Pharmaceuticals approximates one fourth of the 1.3 million patients currently taking buprenorphine would qualify to use the innovative new device. Braeburn Pharmaceuticals aims to make the implant widely available by June 21 with a monthly cost under $1000.