Helping drug addicts kick the habit six months at a time

A new drug to treat people with addictions to heroin or painkillers could be on the market before the end of the year.

If Probuphine gets final approval from the FDA in April, it will be part of a growing and lucrative market for an equally fast growing problem.

What excites Pittsburg-based Dr. April Clark is that this new medication is implanted under the skin and delivers medicine for six months straight.

“I have to say it’s kind of the stuff of science fiction,” says Clark.

Right now, the medication Clark can prescribe today must be taken every day. The dosage effectively blocks someone from getting high off an illegal drug. But Clark says if you can’t skip a day -- because the medicine is course through your system for months -- it’s easier to stay sober. And you can’t sell it on the street.

“People who are not prescribed the medication would not get the medication. It can’t kind of get into the wrong hands,” she says.

Some two million Americans are addicted to heroin or painkillers and annual sales of drugs to treat drug addicts is more than $1 billion a year. With all that money on the table, several more drugs are expected to come to market in short order.

Analyst Jason Napodano at Zacks Investment Research says the name of this game is safety.

“If you are a pharmaceutical company and you want to play in this market, you need to come up with something better and safer to treat opioid addicts,” he says.

As this epidemic only grows, Napodano says the FDA doesn’t have much patience for just another pill.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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