There’s a new tool available to help combat the opioid crisis.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved an implant that continuously dispenses the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine for six months, the agency announced on Thursday.
The device, branded as Probuphine, will cost less than $1,000 per month, according to a spokesperson for Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, the company with commercial rights to the implant in the United States. That’s much more expensive than forms of buprenorphine already available as a daily pill or dissolvable film. But it’s cheaper than Vivitrol, another form of opioid medication available as a shot that goes for about $1,100 a month.
Doctors caution that the implant, originally developed by Titan Pharmaceuticals, is no silver bullet for an opioid crisis that’s devastating communities across the country. Patients need counseling and other forms of support in addition to the implant. And the implant is aimed at patients who are already deemed stable, taking low dosages of other forms of buprenorphine. That’s a small chunk of the estimated 1.9 million people addicted to prescription painkillers and 600,000 addicted to heroin.
Next up for Braeburn: Training thousands of clinicians how to insert the implant under the skin of the upper arm. Training sessions are slated to begin this weekend, and Braeburn expects to train 4,000 clinicians by the end of the year.
Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director for substance use disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital, is one of the clinicians who plans to learn.
“Any additional tools that we can have in dealing with what’s a devastating and potentially deadly disease are necessary,” Wakeman told STAT last week.