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Naltrexone implants ‘may help save methamphetamine addicts’

george oneill naltrexone

By Paige Taylor, WA Bureau Chief, Perth
The Australian  27 June 2015

A doctor treating crystal ­methamphetamine addicts with implants invented for heroin users has asked Tony Abbott’s National Ice Taskforce to help ­expand his unconventional work.

George O’Neill pioneered the use of naltrexone implants for heroin addicts 15 years ago but ­increasingly has been giving ice addicts the implants, which are blocks containing 30 or more naltrexone tablets inserted under the skin of the abdomen. More than half the 38 ­addicts at his regional West Australian clinic came to him for help with ice addictions.

The use of naltrexone for opioid addiction has been highly contentious. In 2012, a Sydney coroner examining the death of James Unicomb was critical of naltrexone implants and the running of the NSW clinic that gave him an implant, Psych ’n’ Soul.

The coroner found staffing was inadequate and assessment of patients cursory, and it made the most of client desperation.

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s position on naltrexone implants is that further research on adverse effects is needed before a statement on safety can be confidently made, but a small study by West Australian addiction expert Gary Hulse has given Dr O’Neill hope that his work with addicts in WA can be replicated.

The study of 44 of Dr O’Neill’s patients, carried out at the ­University of WA’s School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, found 75 per cent were not using methamphetamines, including ice, after 12 to 14 weeks.

The figure was 100 per cent when naltrexone levels in the blood were optimal, although this lasted only for a month because the levels were slowly dropping.

Professor Hulse said yesterday he believed use of naltrexone for ice addicts was sound based on the small studies done, but as yet there was no large-scale study to show this.

Dr O’Neill said his sustained-release implants worked for ice addicts just as they had done for heroin addicts, by almost blocking the good feelings the drug generated. “I would be really happy if the National Ice Taskforce recommended federal funding for us to have the trial recommended by the UWA researchers,” he said. “We are confident of our results but it is important for everyone that they can be formally measured.”

A taskforce spokeswoman said ­several issues for treatment of crystal methamphetamine addiction were under consideration.

Original article here

Drug addiction treatment divides opinions
7.30 Report ABC TV
Program transcript here

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