WVU One of Lead Centers in Addiction Study

Evaluating addiction to prescription pain medications

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University is part of a large-scale national study looking into treatment for addiction to prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. The multi-site study, known as the Prescription Opiate Addiction Treatment Study (POATS), is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

WVU was one of three sites, along with Harvard University and UCLA, participating in wave one of the study. The NIDA announced today the expansion of the study to 11 sites throughout the country.

“Prescription pain pill dependence is high in this area,” said Mimmie Byrne from the WVU Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry. “This study seeks to find the best way to treat the dependence, either with medication alone, or a combination of medicine and therapy.”

The study is in response to the growing national problem of prescription drug abuse in the country. According to the 2005 National Survey on Drug use and Health, the incidence of new nonmedical users of pain relievers is now at 2.2 million Americans aged 12 and older, surpassing the number of new marijuana abusers (2.1 million). In 2005, more than six million Americans reported current (in the past month) nonmedical use of prescription drugs, more than the number abusing cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants, combined.

“The abuse of prescription opiates continues to be unacceptably high, producing steep increases in emergency room admissions,’’ said NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni.  “This trial is part of our ongoing commitment to develop better treatment approaches for drug abuse and addiction, so devastating to millions of Americans and their families. “ 

The study will test the effectiveness of buprenorphine/naloxone tablets, marketed as Suboxone®, along with different models of drug counseling in patients addicted to prescription opioids.   Buprenorphine works by acting on the brain’s own opiate receptors—targets for heroin, morphine, and prescription opioids—relieving drug cravings without prompting the same intense high or dangerous side effects.  When combined with naloxone, buprenorphine’s abuse potential is further limited, since those who try to inject it to get high experience severe withdrawal symptoms, while no adverse effects occur when it is taken orally, as prescribed.  This medication has been approved for prescribing by specially trained physicians in office-based settings, greatly expanding the treatment options available for opiate addiction.

- WVU -

For more information:
Steve Bovino, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

Return To News Releases