A study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes earlier this year found that a drug typically prescribed to treat alcohol use disorder can help suppress HIV. Naltrexone (not to be confused with naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug) is a medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat alcohol use disorder or opioid abuse. It can also prevent a relapse into alcohol or drug addiction.
A team of researchers, led by Dr. Sandra Springer of Yale School of Medicine’s infectious diseases section, monitored the viral loads of 100 recently-paroled HIV-positive people who were also recovering alcoholics. For six months, study participants were either given extended-release naltrexone or a placebo, and the researchers followed participant’s efforts to transition back into society post-incarceration — a stressful time when recovering addicts are at high risk of relapsing. The subjects that took the opiate antagonist, naltrexone, were more likely to level out their viral loads with improved viral suppression.
People living with HIV are reportedly more likely to abuse alcohol and doing so worsens the health outcomes for poz folks as well as those with hepatitis C, a common comorbidity. Opioids, commonly prescribed for pain relief, may also be disproportionately prescribed to people with HIV. We know that those who use injection drugs are more at-risk to become HIV-positive. Regardless of the substance used, addiction can wreak havoc on people’s long-term physical and mental health. The fact that naltrexone could simultaneously prevent relapse and help boost viral suppression makes it all that more intriguing.