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Study: Using medications to treat addiction 'makes strong economic sense'

June 29, 2011
by News release
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Waltham, Mass. — Alkermes, Inc. has published two new studies in the June issue of The American Journal of Managed Care evaluating pharmacoeconomic data on addiction treatments, including Vivitrol (naltrexone for extended-release injectable suspension), with the endpoint of total healthcare costs.

The first paper1 showed that patients receiving an FDA-approved medication for their alcohol dependence had reduced total healthcare costs, including inpatient, outpatient and pharmacy costs, compared to patients treated without medication.

Patients treated with Vivitrol had significantly lower hospital costs, fewer days in detoxification and fewer admissions to the hospital than patients treated with any of three other medications: oral naltrexone, disulfiram or acamprosate.

The second paper2 evaluated patients treated for opioid dependence and again showed that treatment with an FDA-approved medication reduced total healthcare costs, with Vivitrol -treated patients experiencing fewer hospitalizations than patients treated with the oral medications buprenorphine, oral naltrexone and methadone.

In addition, despite higher pharmacy costs for Vivitrol, the total healthcare costs for Vivitrol were no greater than buprenorphine or oral naltrexone, and were 49 percent lower than methadone.

Both studies demonstrated the cost effectiveness of treating addiction with pharmacotherapy. In the study of alcohol-dependent patients, total healthcare costs were 30 percent lower for patients who received an FDA-approved medication for their alcohol dependence versus those who did not.

In the study of opioid-dependent patients, total healthcare costs were 29 percent lower for patients who received an FDA-approved medication for their opioid dependence versus those who did not.

“In spite of the fact that much of the population with opioid dependence and alcohol dependence remains untreated, these studies show that the use of medications to treat these addictions makes strong economic sense by reducing total healthcare costs,” said Mady Chalk, PhD, an author of the studies and Director of the Center for Policy Research and Analysis at the Treatment Research Institute.

“Specifically, patients treated with Vivitrol had total healthcare costs on par with, or lower than, the FDA-approved oral treatments for these addictions, primarily driven by reduced hospitalizations. Vivitrol offers patients suffering from addiction a once-monthly, non-addictive medication that alleviates the issue of non-adherence to daily medications.”

The American Journal of Managed Care supplement and these two studies were funded by Alkermes. These studies were retrospective claims database analyses of all medical and pharmacy claims from patients identified from a large U.S. health plan and the IMS PharMetrics Integrated Database.

The studies matched the patients based on demographic, clinical and healthcare utilization variables. The study of alcohol-dependent patients included healthcare utilization variables for 20,752 patients, half of whom used an FDA-approved medication for alcohol dependence—Vivitrol, oral naltrexone, oral disulfiram or oral acamprosate—and half of whom had not used one of these medications.

The study with opioid-dependent patients included 13,316 patients, half of whom had used an FDA-approved medication for opioid dependence—Vivitrol, buprenorphine, oral naltrexone or methadone—and half of whom had not used one of these medications.

Two additional studies included in the supplement were independently funded and conducted by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and Aetna Behavioral Healthcare, both of which showed comparable findings.

The pharmacoeconomic study of opioid-dependent patients” is the first retrospective comparison among patients taking any opioid dependence medication versus no medication and the first study examining costs among the four currently FDA-approved opioid dependence treatments. “

The pharmacoeconomic study of alcohol-dependent patients” is the largest cost study to date of alcohol pharmacotherapy.


  1. Baser O, Chalk M, Rawson R, Gastfriend DR. Alcohol dependence treatments: comprehensive healthcare costs, utilization outcomes, and pharmacotherapy persistence. Am J Manag Care. 2011;17(8):S222-S234.
  2. Baser O, Chalk M, Fiellin DA, Gastfriend DR. Cost and utilization outcomes of opioid-dependence treatments. Am J Manag Care. 2011;17(8):S235-S248.

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