Researchers will test two-drug combination to treat meth addiction

Feb 05 2018

Researchers will test two-drug combination to treat meth addiction

Researchers in South Carolina are setting up a Phase III clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of two FDA-approved drugs, bupropion and naltrexone, in treating methamphetamine addiction.

Bupropion is sold as Wellbutrin to treat depression and Zyban to treat nicotine addiction; naltrexone, is an opiate-blocker which is sold as Vivitrol, to treat addiction. Wellbutrin is an antidepressant with amphetamine-like side effects, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure.

The researchers, affiliated with the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, are hoping the two drugs can be used in tandem to reduce addicts’ craving for meth, and also reduce withdrawal symptom.

Scientists have so far been unable to identify a single drug that can be used to successfully treat meth addiction, said Susan Sonne, principal investigator and associate professor at MUSC. “It’s thought that by using two meds, we might actually be able to show some improvement,” she told the Greenville News.

One group will receive extended release naltrexone and bupropion; their results will be compared to those of a second group of participants receiving a matching placebo (an inactive substance) in the treatment of methamphetamine use disorder. Participants will receive study medications along with brief medication management twice a week, for 12 weeks, with follow up visits at weeks 13 and 16. 

One element that will make this study somewhat unusual is the location. Rather than the city of Charleston – where the university is based – the study will take place in rural Pickens County, in the northwest part of the state. That’s because the meth addiction problem is mainly situated in the upstate area, Sonne said. Methamphetamine manufacturing and consumption is more common in the rural areas of South Carolina, than urban areas.

Pickens County was also chosen because of a relatively high number of residents seeking treatment for meth addiction – several hundred a year, according to research coordinator Elizabeth Chapman. The researchers will be recruiting participants who are struggling with meth addiction, age 18 to 65, with recruiting continuing through March of 2019. Participants can receive up to $800, depending on participation stipulations.

Bupropion was first identified as a possible treatment for meth addiction in a small-scale, 2005 study by researchers at The University of California-Los Angeles.

The study included 26 active meth users, ages 18 to 45 years old, 20 of whom completed the study. They were 18-45 years old. Half received bupropion and half received a placebo.

None of the subjects was seeking treatment for meth use. They also had no history of other illicit drug addictions, seizures, or other serious health problems. Before taking those pills, they were given small doses of meth in a lab. Then, they rated the drug’s effects. Participants got another round of meth doses in the lab six days after taking bupropion or the placebo. Afterwards, they repeated their ratings. Ten people from each group completed the study.

Participants in the bupropion group reported a smaller “high” after the second round of meth doses. They also didn’t seem to crave meth as much as those in the placebo group.

An estimated 569,000 Americans 12 and older were current users of methamphetamines in 2014, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Meth can cause a variety of health problems, affecting the heart, kidneys and liver. Users may experience including inability to sleep, fast breathing, rapid and irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and malnutrition. Their use may also result in violent outbursts and other psychotic symptoms.