Opioid addiction works as well as daily medication

The study is believed to be the first to directly compare Vivitrol — administered as a monthly shot — with a combination drug treatment sold under the brand name Suboxone. In the U.S. and many other countries, Suboxone or methadone have been the standard medical treatment for people with an opioid use disorder.

Researchers in Norway found the two treatments were similar in terms of safety and efficacy in helping opioid-dependent people refrain from illicit drug use during a three-month period.

The results may provide a boost to Vivitrol manufacturer Alkermes Inc., which has been aggressively promoting the medication following its 2010 approval as a treatment for opioid-dependence relapse.

Many addiction specialists, however, are waiting for more research before considering Vivitrol as a treatment option. A larger study comparing Vivitrol and Suboxone, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is expected to be released in December. That study also tracks subjects for a longer period of time. Several other studies are also underway.

The two treatments work in different ways. Vivitrol, which is a version of the drug naltrexone, blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids. Suboxone is an opioid — comprised of buprenorphine and a small amount of naloxone — that produces less of an euphoric effect than other opioids like heroin. Suboxone and methadone have been well-studied and shown to be effective in keeping people in treatment and reducing illicit opioid use.