Marisa Peryer

Yale School of Medicine researchers received $40 million in grants from the Veterans Affairs Cooperative Study for the purpose of studying treatment for opioid addiction, according to a Yale press release on March 21.

Led by School of Medicine internal medicine professor Sandra Springer and psychiatry professor Ismene Petrakis, the grant-winning study will compare the effectiveness of two forms of buprenorphine, an FDA-approved medication used for treating opioid addiction. According to Springer, in Novermber 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved an injectable form of buprenorphine, which is administered once every 28 days. Previously, the drug was only available in an oral form that had to be taken daily.

Hypothesizing that the injectable version of the drug is more effective, the four-year study will include 900 veterans interested in receiving treatment for opioid use disorder. They will receive either the oral or the injectable form of buprenorphine for one year, and will also participate in a longer study period to investigate treatment retention and opioid abstinence.

Effectiveness and retention are the two criteria used to compare the oral and the injectable form of the drug, Springer said.

“Our study is unique in the sense that alongside effectiveness, it is also looking at retention,” she said. “It is important to look at how the medication is helping people stay in care because once people stop treatment, they are more likely to relapse and die.”

Springer, an infectious disease specialist, said that addressing opioid addiction could help prevent the spread of other infectious diseases associated with opioid use, such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

According to Petrakis, the study is “highly unusual” because it follows participants for a year. Noting that running medical trials for longer periods of time is very expensive, Petrakis added that most patients do not fully recover from addiction problems in a short amount of time. The year-long study aims to more comprehensively investigate the effectiveness of addiction medication.

If the researchers’ hypothesis that the injectable form of the drug is more effective than the oral form is correct, then the injectable version of the drug may become more widely accepted and more available to all patients, not just veterans.

However, if the study finds that the oral form of the drug is better, Petrakis said that this would open up further research avenues.

“Maybe there is something about taking medication orally on a daily basis that reminds you that you shouldn’t use drugs,” she said. “Maybe, there is a psychological component involved.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids every day.

Ishana Aggarwal | ishana.aggarwal@yale.edu