Morphine Addicts

“Weight Loss Jabs” Instead of Drug Rehab? Hold On, Folks

This sounds like a godsend. “Weight loss jabs could be a more effective and cheaper treatment for drug addiction than rehab, a study suggests.” So says the Telegraph of London. The “weight loss jabs” they’re talking about are liraglutide 3 mg daily injections, also known by the brand name of Saxenda.

Sad to say, they and other exuberant health reporters are a little bit ahead of themselves. This study is quite interesting and seemingly well-controlled. But it is nothing more than a small proof-of-concept study, not yet peer-reviewed, and far from representing a generalizable finding.

So no, “weight loss jabs” will not be replacing drug rehab anytime soon.

An RCT of 20 Patients in Residential Treatment

Patricia Grigson-Kennedy presented this randomized controlled study at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week. The study enrolled a total of 27 patients with opioid use disorder at a residential addiction treatment site. Grigson-Kennedy presented data for the 20 patients who completed the study.

The good news is that the patients who received liraglutide benefited with a 40% reduction in cravings for opioids. These were patients who had already received medication-assisted withdrawal treatment. Some of the patients receiving liraglutide reported absolutely no cravings – especially if they were already receiving buprenorphine when they started in this study. All of this is impressive because it represents the first well-controlled study to provide evidence that a GLP-1 agonist like liraglutide might actually be effective for opioid addiction.

Christian Hendershot is a psychologist studying GLP-1 agonists in alcohol use disorder and was not involved with this opioid addiction study. He explained why these findings are noteworthy:

“The reason these initial findings are nice is that they looked at this question in a really controlled environment. We know that craving predicts relapses in many cases, so having established that reduction, the next question is whether drugs like liraglutide suppress craving and relapse in the natural environment.”

Caution Advised

Obviously, much work remains to understand how valuable liraglutide or other GLP-1 agonists might be for treating addiction. This is a small study with a high dropout rate. These results may not hold up in other patient populations because they come from people in a residential treatment facility. Neuropharmacologist Heath Schmidt explains:

“That’s very different than being at home or on the street, where you’re around a lot of cues that promote relapse and craving.”

Clearly, this is very interesting research and we will be eager to see it in a peer-reviewed publication. But we are a long way from seeing “weight loss jabs” replace drug rehab.

Click here for excellent reporting on this in STAT News by Simar Bajaj and here for an interview with Grigson-Kennedy about her study.

Morphine Addicts, etching by Paul-Albert Besnard / WikiArt

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February 24, 2024