A study by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has revealed that a pair of drugs can be highly beneficial to people with severe methamphetamine addiction issues when used together.
The new treatment looks to mark a significant shift in how patients are treated. It is a combination of two drugs that are already available: naltrexone and bupropion.
Methamphetamine, popularly called meth, is a strong stimulant that takes control of the brain’s reward pathways when used. It often leads to recurring use to feel “good.”
Meth use disorder is a troubling condition that has both physical and psychological risks and can possibly lead to death. It is a serious issue in the United States, where evidence suggests that it is leading to an increasing number of overdose deaths.
The new research, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, offers hope of preventing the scary consequences of methamphetamine abuse.
NIDA is a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Hard to treat
Medical experts can attest that methamphetamine use disorder isn’t one of the conditions that are easy to treat. While there are approved medications for some other addictive opioids, there are none currently for treating meth addiction.
Scientists have been battling to come up with an effective treatment but have not been very successful. It has been tough finding something that can upset the processes that play a part in the disorder.
Research shows that naltrexone may inhibit the feeling of euphoria that patients get while also reducing cravings. As for bupropion, it could help to combat the feeling of unease or discontent that is linked to withdrawal.
Both naltrexone, which is injected, and oral bupropion didn’t do much for patients in earlier studies when used singly.
Researchers, therefore, proposed a combination treatment consisting of the two medications. The findings were encouraging.
For their study, the research team recruited 403 subjects with a moderate or severe disorder and aged between 18 and 65 years. The participants were assigned randomly to a treatment or control group in the study, which ran from 2017 to 2019.
The scientists gave subjects in the treatment group an extended-release naltrexone injection every three weeks. They also administered extended-release bupropion tablets to the volunteers daily. The treatment was conducted in two stages of six weeks each.
Participants in the control also got injections and tablets that were placebos over similar periods.
Response to therapy in the treatment group was significant, compared to the placebo group. Researchers observed a 16.5% response rate among those treated during the fifth and sixth weeks; it was 3.4% among placebo takers. In the treatment group, 11.4% also responded when assessed in weeks 11 and 12 while just 1.8% did in the control group.
Treated volunteers reported fewer cravings and substantial improvements in their lives. There were also no significant unpleasant reactions from the combo treatment.
The number needed to treat (NNT) was nine, according to the researchers. In other words, one patient out of nine will respond to the treatment.