New $1,600 a month heroin-fighting medicine a ‘game changer’

ST. LOUIS – Users often say they want to quit but the withdrawals are so intense that it pulls them back to the streets looking for another fix. That’s why a new opioid medication is being described as a great new weapon against opioid addiction.

“To go from here to here is such a big jump. They need that titration, they need that step-down,” said Chad Sabora, a recovering addict who now helps others through his Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery.

Sabora calls a new treatment drug called Sublocade “a game changer.”

“We have time to work with them on the core issues that drove their addiction and then once we deal with that, then we can deal them down to the next step,” he said. “It’s an amazing tool.”

Sublocade is a once-a-month injection that allows the extended release of Suboxone.

Sabora says regular Suboxone is also successful, but that pill requires a daily dose. But there’s a problem with that, he says.

“A person can be fully ready at day one of starting this treatment. (They might say) ‘I don’t ever want to do this drug again’ and they’re doing great for about 10 days, 14 days, but then something happens, and they decide ‘I’m going to skip my Suboxone today,’ and after a day or two they could start using elicit opioids again,” he said.

Sublocade works differently than another successful heroin fighting shot Vivitrol. Britney Gilliam credits Vivitrol for helping her kick her heroin habit years ago. In 2015, she said, “I feel like it just flipped the switch in my brain.”

Gilliam said she just hit her six-year clean mark this past January.

Vivitrol is sometimes described as long-acting Narcan. It blocks a brain’s receptors, so a person cannot feel high. A patient can still overdose if they use heroin.

Sabora describes Sublocade as a partial blocker, but also part agonist as the opiate dose helps with cravings.

Sublocade worked for Doug Palmer of Kansas City.

“Call someplace right now and try to get medical help, for Suboxone or the new injection that’s out, because it’ll change your life dramatically,” Palmer told our Fox affiliate WDAF in Kansas City.

Sabora added, “We know this isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing, so one person could walk into our office for a treatment referral based on an assessment, they could do best on Methadone, Suboxone, or Vivitrol, so we have to have options.”

Some treatment centers are trying to get insurance companies to pay for the $1,600 monthly shot. It’s sometimes covered.

You can find a list of opioid treatment centers online at  MissouriOpiodsTR.org. You can also watch our 2015 Fox Files report on Vivitriol here.