Addiction to prescription drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin has become a more serious problem in the U.S. than addiction to illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin. The CDC reports that the number of prescription drug overdose deaths in 2011 exceeded the number of deaths from illegal drug overdoses. The magnitude of this problem is putting increasing pressure on drug makers to find a solution for prescription drug abuse.
MediciNova, a San Diego drug manufacturer, is banking on a drug called Ibudilast to help ease recovery from prescription drug addiction. The National Institutes for Drug Abuse (NIDA) is funding clinical trials to determine if the drug can safely be used as a treatment for addiction to methamphetamine and opioid prescription drugs. MediciNova reports that Ibudilast reduces the cravings that can cause relapse during drug treatment. The company is recommending that the medication be used to fight drug dependence during withdrawal and for the initial 6 to 18 months of sobriety. Since lifestyle changes are required to successfully overcome drug addiction, it is expected that Ibudilast would be used alongside drug treatment therapy.
Another Addiction Related Drug that was Originally Intended for Another Use
Ibudilast is not a new drug. The anti-inflammatory medication has been prescribed in Japan and South Korea for more than a decade as a treatment for cardiovascular disease, stroke and asthma. Evidence of Ibudilast’s safety includes a database of millions of patients who have used the drug without serious side effects. MediciNova has licensed the drug for sales in the U.S. after scientists found that it decreases the neural inflammation that occurs during opioid withdrawal. The drug-maker estimates that Ibudilast could be available for sale within five years if it receives FDA approval.
The idea of treating drug addiction with another drug may sound strange to some, but it is a familiar practice in the area of drug addiction treatment. Methadone is a synthetic opioid that has been used for decades to treat heroin addiction. Buprenorphine (sold under the names Suboxone and Subutex) is a semi-synthetic opioid that’s used to treat opioid addiction. Many drug treatment experts believe that these drugs are safer for drug addicts than commonly abused prescription opiates like OxyContin.
According to drug industry experts, annual sales of Suboxone exceed $1.2 billion. MediciNova could tap into these sales with Ibudilast. The company could also take in another $400 million annually for methamphetamine treatment. Aside from these obvious monetary benefits, scientists are hopeful that Ibudilast could help save thousands of lives that are being lost to drug addiction.