Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Everyone deserves a Fresh Start

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OBSTETRICIAN and addiction specialist Dr George O’Neil has pioneered the use of a drug called Naltrexone, which blocks receptors in the brain to give opiate addicts and alcoholics a chance to overcome their addictions.

Dr O’Neil revolutionised the use of naltrexone through his not-for-profit Fresh Start rehabilitation centre in Subiaco by developing an implant that can remain safely under the skin for up to 14 months and has treated over 14,000 opiate addicts since 1997.

addict
The long-lasting implant developed by Dr George O'Neil can help addicts by continually releasing Naltrexone / Image: Istockphoto

“In basic terms, a cell has a membrane on the outside and the protein complexes of that cell arrange themselves in such a way that certain molecules can come in and cause activity that can cause excitement and depolarisation across that cell. The excitement that occurs is from drugs that are known as agonists,” Dr O’Neil says.

“Drugs that come in and cause excitement across that membrane change the function of that cell and have a major impact.

“Otherwise, you can put little drops of ‘cement’ into the receptors and little drops of ‘cement’ into the receptors, rest the receptor and when you pull the cement out, the receptor is fresh.”

Due to problems of increased sensitivity in patients receiving oral naltrexone, it is not a preferred option for curing addiction, leading Dr O’Neil to begin research into other options, including naltrexone implants.

“Implant work stared in the United States in the 70’s and lasted for up to a month. I would say we have got them (implants) to last up to 200 days and we’ve got enough technology to get them to 500 days,” Dr O’Neil says.

“We’ve been the key people developing a long acting implant. So anything that lasts for more than 40 days has come from the technology here in Perth.”

In order to develop the implant, Dr O’Neil says he combined naltrexone with a polymer, a lactic acid that can link on to another lacteous molecule increasing the units of the drug by 1.5 million.

“We’re typically using polymers that will last 14 months and we’re getting the patient up to 200-300 days and we’re getting better.

“50 percent of addicts only need one treatment to get better and the other 50% need a treatment to get better for 8 months but the process of getting better can take up to five years by the time you change physiology, housing arrangements and position in the community, so that’s a five year task.”

Dr O’Neil says addiction requires a cure in order to promote complete healing of substance abuse and he has seen thousands of addicts do this through his implant technology.

“The primary difference between what we’re doing compared to other clinics across the country, is we’re trying to develop good systems for detox and good systems for maintaining people drug-free.  In Perth, one chance in 64 you will get a detox and a 63 in 64 chance you will be maintained on opiates.

“We’ve got patients flying in from all over the county and we’re just trying to look after them in the best way possible.”

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