FDA approves the first non-opioid Treatment for Management of Opioid withdrawal symptoms in Adults

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Lucemyra (lofexidine hydrochloride) for the mitigation of withdrawal symptoms to facilitate abrupt discontinuation of opioids in adults.

After approval lofexidine hydrochloride became the first non-opioid treatment for managing opioid withdrawal symptoms. Lofexidine HCL is only approved for the treatment upto 14 days for management of opioid use disorder. There are questions for the cost effectiveness of lofexidine hydrochloride compared with other therapies.

The United States is in the midst of a drug overdose epidemic, with both nonprescription and prescription opioids as the major driving factors. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were 5 times higher in 2016 than 1999, with more than 200,000 people dying from prescription opioid overdoses.

Statistics suggest that more than 23 million people in the United States live with addiction, with only about 10% of them seeking and receiving help.2 Although the hesitancy of receiving treatment for opioid addiction can be multifactorial, a barrier for some involves the dread or fear of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

“As part of our commitment to support patients struggling with addiction, we’re dedicated to encouraging innovative approaches to help mitigate the physiological challenges presented when patients discontinue opioids,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “We’re developing new guidance to help accelerate the development of better treatments, including those that help manage opioid withdrawal symptoms. We know that the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be one of the biggest barriers for patients seeking help and ultimately overcoming addiction. The fear of experiencing withdrawal symptoms often prevents those suffering from opioid addiction from seeking help. And those who seek assistance may relapse due to continued withdrawal symptoms. The FDA will continue to encourage the innovation and development of therapies to help those suffering from opioid addiction transition to lives of sobriety, as well as address the unfortunate stigma that’s sometimes associated with the use of medication-assisted treatments.”

Opioid withdrawal includes symptoms — such as anxiety, agitation, sleep problems, muscle aches, runny nose, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and drug craving — that occur after stopping or reducing the use of opioids in anyone with physical dependence on opioids. Physical dependence to opioids is an expected physiological response to opioid use. These symptoms of opioid withdrawal occur both in patients who have been using opioids appropriately as prescribed and in patients with OUD.

In patients using opioid analgesics appropriately as prescribed, opioid withdrawal is typically managed by slow taper of the medication, which is intended to avoid or lessen the effects of withdrawal while allowing the body to adapt to not having the opioid. In patients with OUD, withdrawal is typically managed by substitution of another opioid medicine, followed by gradual reduction or transition to maintenance therapy with FDA-approved medication-assisted treatment drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone; or by various medications aimed at specific symptoms, such as over-the-counter remedies for upset stomach or aches and pains. Other treatments may also be prescribed by a patient’s health care provider.

“Today’s approval represents the first FDA-approved non-opioid treatment for the management of opioid withdrawal symptoms and provides a new option that allows providers to work with patients to select the treatment best suited to an individual’s needs,” said Sharon Hertz, M.D., director of the Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia and Addiction Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Lucemyra Overview

Lucemyra is an oral, selective alpha 2-adrenergic receptor agonist that reduces the release of norepinephrine. The actions of norepinephrine in the autonomic nervous system are believed to play a role in many of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The safety and efficacy of Lucemyra was supported by two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of 866 adults meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV criteria for opioid dependence who were physically dependent on opioids and undergoing abrupt opioid discontinuation. The studies evaluated benefit using the Short Opiate Withdrawal Scale of Gossop (SOWS-Gossop), which is a patient-reported outcome instrument that assesses opioid withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include feeling sick, stomach cramps, muscle spasms/twitching, feeling of coldness, heart pounding, muscular tension, aches and pains, yawning, runny eyes and insomnia/problems sleeping.

Side Effects

The most common side effects from treatment with Lucemyra include hypotension (low blood pressure), bradycardia (slow heart rate), somnolence (sleepiness), sedation and dizziness. Lucemyra was also associated with a few cases of syncope (fainting). Lucemyra effect the heart’s electrical activity, which can increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms. When Lucemyra is stopped, patients can experience a marked increase in blood pressure. The safety and efficacy of Lucemyra have not been established in children or adolescents less than 17 years of age. After a period of not using opioid drugs, patients may be more sensitive to the effects of lower amounts of opioids if relapse does occur, and taking opioids in amounts that were used before withdrawing from opioids can lead to overdose and death. 

There are currently only three drugs approved by the FDA for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. Physicians wishing to prescribe buprenorphine to patients must have a special certification from the DEA and are limited in the number of patients they can treat.

Buprenorphine is an opioid that is also used to treat pain. When combined with naloxone, buprenorphine reduces cravings for opioids and lowers the risk of abuse.

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