FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- You may have heard about a new treatment for alcoholics and opiate addicts that involves an implant to take away cravings. It claims to be safe and have a very high success rate.
ABC30 found a Clovis man last fall who had been drinking for years and was desperate to get sober. He was willing to take us on his journey to sobriety.
We caught up with Mark Stites last October. He had just begun a remodel on a home he bought in Clovis. His wife and young daughter were living in San Jose. His alcoholism had alienated his wife, his family, and most of his friends.
Mark described his situation, "I think I was at the end of my rope. You know, two DUIs, a breathalyzer, a little bit of county time. It's really hard when you go to a family function and nobody wants to talk to you because you're intoxicated."
After years of drinking Mark wanted to change. Mark had heard about a simple implant that could take away his cravings for alcohol.
Mark said, "You know, I've been to rehab, I've been to AA. But those don't fight the cravings. And if somehow, some way they can re-wire my brain to get me to where I need to be -- I think I'm strong enough and man enough to face my demons."
After detoxing from alcohol for eight days, Mark showed up for outpatient surgery. The surgeon cut a flap in Mark's abdomen and implanted a dissolvable tablet of naltrexone. Naltrexone blocks the euphoric receptors in the brain that give an addict or alcoholic that high. The naltrexone implant lasts anywhere from six to 12 months depending on a patient's metabolism.
Dan Markel is the CEO and founder of the company that makes the implant. He says while the FDA approved the use of naltrexone in pill form years ago. Doctors have had trouble getting patients to comply with treatment.
Markel explained, "You're going to take a pill every single morning and you're going to choose that over your nice glass of chardonnay or that nice shot of scotch that you usually do instead or that hit of OxyContin or heroin or whatever. You know you should be doing it, well it's an impossible task to be able to do that."
Three months after Mark got the implant he's making progress on his remodeling project. His Clovis home has a new front entrance and new hardwood floors.
"The construction part now is the finishing touches," said Mark. "We are looking for granite, little bit of wiring and utilities."
The first couple of weeks after the implant went in, Mark says it was tender to the touch. He also had trouble sleeping and felt anxious. But he believes it was just the tool he needed to begin his life's remodel.
"It's a 50-50 deal," said Mark. "I mean they can get you there, but unless you're willing to do the work with the counselors, the programs, being consistent, you're actually just wasting your time."
There a couple of companies making naltrexone implants. All claim success rates of 80 percent or higher. But there are risks. One is the risk of overdose or even death after the implant wears off. Because addicts on naltrexone have gone without opiates for a long period of time -- their tolerance level for the drug goes way down and they are more susceptible to overdose.
As for Mark, he is looking towards the future, and preparing to move his wife and young daughter to their newly remodeled Clovis home, a home that will now need a nursery for a new baby on the way.
It appears the implant is a success for Mark. But the treatment doesn't come cheap. The facility in Fresno is charging $22,000 for the implant and ongoing therapy. Some insurance companies are covering up to half of the cost. But it's still expensive.
The implant is just part of the treatment. Counseling and life changes to re-program the brain are the other important components.
Some resources to consider before obtaining the naltrexone implant:
MyLife Recovery Centers
Naltrexone Implants for Opiates FAQ
Naltrexone Implants for Alcohol FAQ
Helping addicts get sober for good