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2011;14;391-406. Morphine Sulfate and Naltrexone Hydrochloride Extended-Release Capsules: Naltrexone Release, Pharmacodynamics, and Tolerability
Comprehensive Review
Franklin Johnson, MS, and Beatrice Setnik, PhD

BACKGROUND: Morphine sulfate and naltrexone hydrochloride extended-release capsules (EMBEDA, King Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Bristol, TN), indicated for management of chronic, moderate-to-severe pain, contain pellets of extended-release morphine sulfate with a sequestered naltrexone core (MS-sNT). Taken as directed, morphine provides analgesia while naltrexone remains sequestered; if tampered with by crushing, naltrexone is released to mitigate morphine-induced euphoric effects. While it is necessary to establish that formulations intended to reduce attractiveness for abuse are successful in doing so, it is also necessary to demonstrate that product therapeutic integrity is maintained for patients.

OBJECTIVES: Data were reviewed from 3 studies to determine: 1) the quantity of naltrexone released when MS-sNT pellets are crushed (MS-sNTC) for at least 2 minutes with mortar and pestle); 2) the extent to which the naltrexone released upon crushing mitigated morphine-induced subjective effects; and 3) whether sequestered naltrexone precipitates opioid withdrawal when MS-sNT is taken as directed.

METHODS: The naltrexone bioavailability study compared naltrexone release from MS-sNTC with that from whole intact MS-sNT capsules (MS-sNTW) and an equal naltrexone solution (NS) dose. Equivalent bioavailability was established if 90% confidence intervals (CIs) for geometric mean ratios (maximum plasma naltrexone concentration [Cmax] and area under the concentration-time curve extrapolated to infinity [AUC∞]) fell between 80% and 125%. The oral pharmacodynamic study assessed drug liking and euphoria and pharmacokinetic properties of MS-sNTC and MS-sNTW compared with morphine sulfate solution (MSS) and placebo. The 12-month, open-label (OL) safety study evaluated safety of MS-sNT administered orally as directed in patients with chronic, moderate-to-severe pain. Safety assessments included withdrawal symptoms based on the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS).

RESULTS: Naltrexone from MS-sNTC met criteria for equivalent bioavailability to NS. Although morphine relative bioavailability was similar for MS-sNTC and MSS, mean peak (Emax) visual analog scale (VAS) scores for drug liking and Cole/Addiction Research Center Inventory Stimulation-Euphoria were significantly reduced for MS-sNTC vs MSS (P < 0.001). In these 2 studies, a total of 6 participants had one measurement of plasma naltrexone after MS-sNTW that was above the lower limit of quantification. In the OL safety study, 72/93 participants (77%) had no quantifiable naltrexone concentrations. There was neither evidence of naltrexone accumulation for any participant nor any significant correlation with MS-sNT dose, age, or sex. Of 4 participants with the highest naltrexone concentrations, none had COWS scores consistent with moderate opioid withdrawal symptoms. Only 5 participants had COWS scores consistent with moderate opioid withdrawal; all 5 had not taken MS-sNT as directed.

LIMITATIONS: Study populations may not be fully representative of patients receiving opioid therapy for the management of chronic, moderate-to-severe pain and of opioid abusers.

CONCLUSIONS: When MS-sNT capsules are crushed, all of the sequestered naltrexone (relative to oral NS) is released and immediately available to mitigate morphine-induced effects. When MS-sNT was crushed, the naltrexone released abated drug liking and euphoria relative to that from an equal dose of immediate-release morphine from MSS administration in a majority of participants. Naltrexone concentrations were low over a period of 12 months without evidence of accumulation, and there were no observable opioid withdrawal symptoms when MS-sNT was taken as directed.


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Pain Physcian
Franklin Johnson
Beatrice Setnik

Chronic pain
drug liking
extended-release opioids
opioid withdrawal