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Study Finds Competing Opioid Treatments Have Similar Outcomes

Summary and Analysis…

The results of a long-awaited study of two Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) drugs has found they both have a similar rate of failure in terms of relapse (greater than 50%). While the article’s primary focus is on the perceived differences between the drugs, it also highlights problems associated with the interpretation and marketing of the “science” related to MAT drugs.

The article points out that “drug manufacturers have been competing fiercely to develop and market medications to treat opioid addictions” and that “there is significant money at stake”, a recipe for the kind of disaster that resulted in the misleading marketing and overprescription of opioids.

The article indicates that the manufacturer of Vivitrol has engaged in marketing “using free samples and millions of dollars in political donations” while Suboxone also has a street problem as it “is also more likely to be diverted into a black market.”

The article says Vivitrol’s manufacturer has come under investigation by political leaders and is reportedly “cooperating in an investigation by the Justice Department” though the focus of the investigation is unclear. For its part, the manufacturer of Suboxone “has been sued by 43 state attorneys general who say the company schemed to block generic competition.”

Several of the study researchers also have prior experience with one of the drug manufacturers including at least one paid consultancy.

Whatever the actual results of the study, it is important to discuss how the results are marketed because it is likely being touted as favorable to both drugs. Communities and policy leaders would be well-advised to take into account the problems with sponsored “science” and the potential danger of unscientific marketing pronouncements surrounding questionable studies.

Excerpted from NY Times

WASHINGTON — A long-awaited study has found that two of the main medications for treating opioid addiction are similarly effective, a finding likely to intensify the hard-fought competition between drugmakers seeking to dominate the rapidly expanding opioid treatment market.

The study, funded by the federal government, compared Vivitrol, which comes in a monthly shot and blocks the effects of opioids, and Suboxone, which is taken daily in strips that dissolve on the tongue and contains a relatively mild opioid that helps minimize withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Researchers found that 52 percent of those who started on Vivitrol relapsed during the 24-week study, compared with 56 percent of those who started on Suboxone.

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