The FDA Just Approved This Implant To Treat Opioid Dependence

Photo: Courtesy of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals.
This week, the FDA announced its approval of a new kind of treatment for opioid dependence: an implanted device.

The implant, called Probuphine, is placed under the skin of the upper arm for six months as part of a larger treatment program. There, it delivers a steady low dose of buprenorphine, a drug that's already in use to help manage opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Until now, people on buprenorphine could only take it as a pill or a film that dissolves under the tongue. This new implant, like those for birth control, makes taking that medication easier because there's no need to remember to take it every day. And you're certainly going to have a harder time losing something that's implanted in your arm.

Although this type of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has become a common method of addressing opioid dependence, it's not without its critics. There's evidence to suggest that when MAT is given alongside counseling as part of a treatment program, it can help keep people in those treatments for longer periods of time. But others argue that drugs like buprenorphine (which are themselves opioids) should not be part of opioid addiction treatment.

Still, many experts are hopeful that having another option in our arsenal can only help. “This product will expand the treatment alternatives available to people suffering from an opioid use disorder,” Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health said in the FDA's press release.

Probuphine, which should be available for patients by the end of June, does come with some caveats. Before switching to Probuphine, patients will already have to be stable on buprenorphine in pill or film form. And with an anticipated price of up to $1,500 per month, it's unclear how accessible it will be.

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