According to new findings, investigators have stumbled upon a drug typically used to treat alcohol use disorder, and found that it could help control or even improve the suppression of the HIV virus.
Naltrexone is an FDA-approved drug in a class called opiate antagonists. It’s used to treat alcohol use disorder or opioid abuse.The dual-use drug is used to prevent a relapse into alcoholism or drug addiction. It’s available globally in growing markets in Korea, India, Canada, Japan, Australia, China, Germany, Africa, France, Brazil, Italy, The United States, Mexico, Middle East, Russia, Southeast Asia and The United Kingdom.
But the drug may have more added benefits than previously imagined, investigators are learning. A new study was published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes on May 16.
Led by Dr. Sandra Springer, a team of investigators observed 100 recently-released inmates, all living with HIV and recovering alcoholics, for six months soon after release. They were each given extended-release naltrexone or a placebo. Subjects were observed as they transitioned back into society sober and acclimate to normal life, during a time when addicts are at high risk of relapsing into old habits.
Springer is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases at the Yale School of Medicine, and author of award-winning research.
The study, “to determine if extended-release naltrexone would improve or maintain viral suppression among incarcerated individuals with HIV and alcohol use disorders transitioning to the community,” was revealing.
What they observed was that the subjects that took naxeltrone were more likely to level out their viral loads with improved viral suppression.
Extended-release naxeltrone “improves or maintains viral suppression after release to the community for incarcerated people living with HIV and alcohol use disorders,” investigators concluded.
Since people living with HIV are twice as likely to drink alcohol hazardously as the general population, a drug like this could come in handy, for many people. Most people living with HIV have to deal with a bloated amount of stress, and many, of course, turn to alcohol or opioids to numb themselves.
Researchers already know that alcohol worsens treatment outcomes for people living with HIV. It also worsens the effects of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Not to mention the emotional and isolating effects that excessive alcohol use inflicts upon people and others around them. We don’t need any more reasons, frankly, to avoid excessive alcohol use.
Opioids, on the other hand, are “the defining epidemic of the 21st century,” according to some of the foremost experts. Opioids have the power to stop breathing in individuals when they are abused or simply when the dose was miscalculated. HIV and opioids are two epidemics that don’t belong together and are too big to be in the same room.
With the added possible benefit of a boost in suppressing HIV, naltrexone may become more appealing. The drug could help certain people living with HIV achieve their goals in suppressing their viral loads and living a long, healthy life. The team said that these finding confirm the drug’s added benefit.