Traditionally prescribed as a treatment for heroin addiction and alcoholism, naltrexone has been in the news a lot lately, as a treatment for ailments from kleptomania to fibromyalgia. Since it’s approval by the FDA in 1984, the drug has been used in low doses as an immune system booster helpful for diseases like HIV, pancreatic cancer, melanoma and ALS, it’s been studied as a treatment for Crohn’s disease, and the Internet is awash with testimony about it’s effectiveness in treating multiple sclerosis. So is naltrexone really a potential panacea, or just the latest flavor of the month wonder drug?
Naltrexone, marketed as Revia and Depade, is an opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the opioid receptors that are activated by heroin use. Put simply, it’s a feel bad pill preventing users from feeling the enjoyable high of heroin, thereby discouraging use. It works in a similar, if less well understood, fashion in the treatment of alcoholism and kleptomania, killing the ‘top of the world’ buzz of booze and inhibiting the giddy, naughty high often associated with petty theft.
What’s even less clear, and significantly less studied, is the effect of the very low doses of naltrexone (4.5 mg daily, as opposed to the 50mg dose prescribed for addiction treatment) that some MS sufferers swear by and which may hold promise for treating the chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia. The treatment, first offered by New York neurologist Dr. Bernard Bihari, is being studied around the world, from Italian studies of it’s use in treating MS to an ong0ing Penn State clinical trial testing the drug’s effects on patients suffering from Crohn’s.
But for right now, many neurologists and medical practitioners remain rightly skeptical of the drugs veritable rainbow of supposed uses. There remains a lot of research to do on why a drug that was meant to block the high of opium would combat everything from central nervous system pain to lymphatic cancer. And while it’s certainly interesting to hear people’s personal experiences with the drug (especially well documented accounts by reasonably well qualified individuals), it’s going to take years more of looking into the why and how for the medical community to believe there is a pill can treat multiple sclerosis and Internet porn addiction in one fell swoop.