The medication is called Vivitrol, and it was approved Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of addiction to opioids, like morphine and heroin.
How does Vivitrol work?
In short, by eliminating the high that's responsible for the appeal of opiates in the first place.
Vivitrol blocks the brain's opiate receptors, and works for a month before patients need their next dose. That means it's impossible to get high from opiate drugs, and cravings ebb off as a result.
In a Russian study on 250 heroin addicts, 86 percent of those treated with Vivitrol were still drug-free after six months. A little over half of patients treated with a placebo were similarly successful.
FDA studies weren't quite so optimistic. The agency found that around 36 percent of those taking Vivitrol stuck with it for six months.
What are the drug's advantages?
Because it's only taken once a month, Vivitrol is relatively easy for addicts to stick with.
"Someone who's interested in not abusing opiates only has to make one good decision a month -- or their family member only has to help them make one good decision a month," Phil Skolnick, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told NPR. "That's why it's important."
Alternatives like methadone need to be used every day and require ongoing medical supervision.
Methadone is also addictive. Although less harmful than the opiate dependencies it helps kick, it essentially swaps one habit for another. And given that methadone needs to be given in a supervised setting, it's all too easy for addicts to start using hard drugs again.
Seriously, though. There must be some downsides.
Of course, Vivitrol comes with the typical physical side effects, like nausea and fatigue. But the biggest downside might actually be what makes the medicine so attractive to some users: the once-a-month catch.
Many addicts just aren't ready to commit to going drug-free, and while they might consent to daily doses of methadone, they're not about to sign on for a month off opiates.
Not to mention the cost. When the FDA approved Vivitrol to treat alcohol addiction in 2006, the medication ran $1,100 a month per patient.