Medicaid now covering alcohol blocker
Imagine a drug that prevents an individual who consumes alcohol from experiencing the pleasant feelings, yet still allows ill effects such as slurred speech.
That drug is known as Vivitrol and it now is in reach of more Hoosiers as a result of changes in state Medicaid benefits that took effect at the start of this year, according to Jennifer Snyder, public relations manager with drugmaker Alkermes.
Indiana consolidated its Medicaid pharmacy benefits with a net effect that includes making Vivitrol available to all recipients, with no prior authorization, at a co-pay of $3, she said. That lower price had been available before to a much smaller pool of recipients, she said.
Porter County Chief Adult Probation Officer Neil Hannon said he is encouraged by news that the drug is more affordable and thus more likely to be used by problem drinkers, including offenders sentenced to probation. He said fewer than 10 of the offenders assigned to his office currently are on the drug.
"I believe it will have a place," he said.
Connie Rudd, director of nursing at the Porter County Health Department, agrees, yet said there are concerns to keep in mind.
The drug apparently begins rapidly losing its effectiveness after about two weeks, she said. It also has several potential side effects, including the possibility of death if consumed with opiates, she said.
Rudd said Vivitrol has value if used in conjunction with Antabuse, which deters people from drinking by making them ill if they consume alcohol.
"If you get hard-core people ... it's going to take some pretty potent stuff to get them off alcohol," she said.
Vivitrol is injected by a medical provider and is administered once a month, which removes the potential of a user intentionally avoiding a dose in order to return to drinking, Snyder said.
The drug blocks the opiate receptors in the brain, which is why the pleasant effects of alcohol are no longer experienced, she said.
It is recommended that the drug be used as part of a wider effort to stop drinking, including psychological and social support programs, Snyder said. Evidence suggests that most patients should expect to use the drug for about a year, though the length of time will vary.
Alkermes recently completed testing and plans to apply soon to offer the drug to combat heroin, OxyContin and other opiate use, she said. If approved, it would challenge the use of methadone and Suboxone as a nonaddictive drug treatment.
By Bob Kasarda
January 17, 2010