What is Naltrexone and how does it treat COVID-19?

nurse wearing protective mask shield forcovid19

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, many researchers are working tirelessly to find a way to treat people who have contracted the virus. According to a recent study conducted by Beaumont Hospital, SINK COVID-19, or the Study of Immunomodulation using Naltrexone and Ketamine for COVID-19, two commonly used FDA-approved drugs, Naltrexone and Ketamine, could be the treatment they have been looking for. 


A Breakdown of COVID-19

COVID-19 infection has three stages, viral response and early pulmonary effects, late pulmonary effects, and hyper inflammation. It has been shown that 80 percent of those affected by COVID-19 stay in stage one while 20 percent of patients progress into stage two, and of those only 20 percent of patients in stage two progresses to stage three. According to the Beaumont Hospital study, “An ideal treatment for COVID-19 would have a two-pronged strategy: a treatment that would slow or interrupt the progression of the disease from mild/moderate (stage 1-2A) to severe (stage 2B-3), and a treatment to rescue patients who have become severe.”  

What is Naltrexone and how could it be a COVID-19 treatment?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Naltrexone is a medication used in medication-assisted treatment to treat both opioid and alcohol use disorders that blocks the euphoric and sedative effects and lessens the cravings of drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine.

But how does Naltrexone play a role in potentially treatingCOVID-19? Dr. Matthew Sims, Director of Infectious Disease Research for Beaumont, said that researchers hope the two drugs can interrupt the severe, damaging immune system response that can occur in COVID-19 patients.

“The addition of these two medications, as immunomodulators, to the treatment regimen of patients with COVID-19 has potential to decrease the severity of this disease by reducing the autoimmune, hyperinflammatory stages of the virus which is destructive to normal tissue and, when unchecked, rapidly leads to death,” SimmsSims on Michigan NPR Radio. 

Naltrexone, at doses below the normal therapeutic dose, appears to reduce the production of multiple cytokines or small secreted proteins released by cells that have a specific effect on the interactions and communications between cells. Communication between cells is essential in preventing the affected patient in stage one progressing to stage two or three.


In this study, if patients do progress to stage two or three after receiving Naltrexone, they will be administered Ketamine as a “rescue agent” as it rapidly decreases the amount of cytokines produced. 


“This study is twofold. It’s looking at whether Naltrexone can prevent progression to the worst forms of COVID, and whether ketamine can rescue people who have gotten worse,” said Dr. Sims.

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