An FDA panel of medical experts on Tuesday recommended the agency approve an experimental implant designed to treat patients recovering from heroin and painkiller addiction.
The matchstick-size implant, called Probuphine, slowly releases, over six months, a low dose of the drug buprenorphine, a common treatment for addicts that works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain but without producing the usual strong feelings of euphoria.
Currently buprenorphine is available as a pill or film placed daily under the tongue, where it dissolves. The problem with that approach, says The New York Times:
In controlled doses, buprenorphine can help the body withdraw from opioid addiction, but can also itself be addictive. That risk is increased by the fact that the medicine can be taken only by mouth, requiring patients, often ill from addiction, to manage their daily dosages.
Emergency department visits involving buprenorhine numbered 30,135 in 2010, a whopping 1,000 percent increase over 2005, according to a 2013 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency.
Probuphine is intended to cut down on such incidents by providing a safer and more reliable regimen than a self-administered approach.