Addicts, researchers say new drug trumps methadone at curbing addiction

Posted: January 18, 2013

IT'LL BE two years Wednesday. Two years since Nicole Kapulsky ceased her daily injections of heroin and began getting monthly injections of Vivitrol, an FDA-approved medication that prevents opiate addicts from getting high.

She says she's been clean ever since, doesn't think about heroin anymore and recently regained full custody of her kids.

After the Daily News told her story last summer, Kapulsky became something of a hub for addicts who want their lives back.

"I talked to three people just this weekend," said Kapulsky, 35, who lives in Boothwyn, Delaware County. "I had a lady in Iowa see the article on Facebook, and she contacted me about helping her three sons who are addicted to heroin."

Kapulsky, who is planning to take college courses to become a drug-and-alcohol counselor, has been helping people find Vivitrol providers. It's a prescription-only monthly dose of naltrexone, which binds to the brain's opioid receptors and blocks the effects of heroin and similar drugs. Unlike methadone and Suboxone, Vivitrol is not habit-forming and doesn't trigger withdrawal symptoms when treatment ends.

"I'm really happy doing this," Kapulsky said. "This makes me feel like I'm actually doing something and helping people."

Recovering addicts say Vivitrol also reduces cravings. Approximately 4,500 to 5,500 people in the U.S. are currently on Vivitrol, according to its manufacturer, Alkermes.

"I haven't had any thoughts of [heroin.] It definitely puts your mind in a different place than being clean without the Vivitrol. When I first got out of rehab, every other thought was,'I'm going to go get high,'" Kapulsky said of her first, unsuccessful attempt to kick heroin with methadone. "That's why I've stayed on it."

Kapulsky's experience is echoed by other recovering addicts in the Philadelphia area.

"It's saving my son's life," said Colleen Keller, who lives in Port Richmond, a few minutes from the open-air drug market where her 26-year-old son used to buy dope. He's been clean for eight months with Vivitrol, according to Keller.

For Jeffrey Gatta, 24, an electrical technician from Brookhaven, outside Chester, Vivitrol is "relapse prevention" that has enabled him and his girlfriend to participate in recovery. They recently got their second shot.

"It's definitely a breakthrough," Gatta said. "It helps big-time."

-William Bender

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