The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the first-ever implant to fight addiction to opioids, a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers and heroin.
Reuters reported that the matchstick-sized implant, developed by Titan Pharmaceuticals Inc and privately owned Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, is by design less susceptible to abuse or the illicit resale that plagues existing oral therapies.
Fewer than half of the estimated 2.2 million Americans who need treatment for opioid abuse are receiving help, according to the U.S. Centers for Human and Health Services (HHS).
Currently, two drugs are predominantly used to treat opioid addiction — methadone, which is dispensed only in government-endorsed clinics, and the less-addictive buprenorphine, which exists as a pill or strip of film. While effective, a pill or film may be lost, forgotten or stolen.
Evidence suggests that the use of these medicines as part of the overall treatment program are more effective than short-term detoxification programs aimed at abstinence, the FDA said on Thursday.
The implant, Probuphine, administers buprenorphine for up to six months after users have been stabilized on the oral form of the drug, and is used along with behavioral therapy and recovery support.
“I intend to make this the most successful implant that’s ever been marketed … and I think it’s absolutely possible given the unmet need,” Braeburn Chief Executive Behshad Sheldon said in an interview ahead of the FDA decision.
However, some doctors are concerned that the implant may incentivise patients to rely solely on medication, and ignore the lifestyle changes they need to make.