Federal health officials on Thursday approved an innovative new option for Americans struggling with addiction to heroin and painkillers: a drug-oozing implant that curbs craving and withdrawal symptoms for six months at a time.
. Roughly 2.5 million Americans suffer from addiction disorders related to the drugs, according to federal estimates.
The implant from Braeburn Pharmaceuticals is essentially a new, long-term delivery system for an established drug, buprenorphine, which has long been used to treat opioid addiction. But its implantable format could help patients avoid dangerous relapses that can occur if they miss a medication dose.
The matchstick-size implant slowly releases a low dose of buprenorphine over six months. Previously the drug was only available as a pill or film that dissolves under the tongue. It is considered a safer, more palatable alternative to methadone, the decades-old standard for controlling opioid addiction.
Probuphine is intended for patients who have already been stabilized on low-to-medium doses of buprenorphine for at least a half year. Braeburn estimates that one fourth, or 325,000, of the 1.3 million patients currently taking buprenorphine meet that criterion.