Rationale: Preclinical observations suggest that NMDA receptor-mediated glutamatergic neurotransmission is involved in the expression and maintenance of opioid dependence.
Objective: The present study evaluated whether memantine, the clinically available non-competitive NMDA receptor antagonist, decreases naloxone-precipitated withdrawal in morphine-dependent humans.
Methods: Eight heroin-dependent, non-treatment seeking, inpatient participants were stabilized on a fixed dose of morphine (30 mg PO qid). Subsequently, they received a series of challenges with naloxone (0.4 mg, IM) and the severity of opioid withdrawal was monitored. Either placebo or memantine (60 mg PO) was given 6 h before each naloxone challenge. A modified multiple baseline, across-participants design was used to evaluate the effects of memantine on the severity of naloxone-precipitated opioid withdrawal.
Results: Naloxone increased ratings and produced physical changes consistent with opioid withdrawal. Memantine attenuated the severity of opioid withdrawal as assessed with the Clinical Institute for Narcotic Withdrawal Scale scale. Withdrawal was significantly reduced when naloxone was administered at 6 and 52 h after memantine, but not when administered 126 h (5 days) after memantine. Medication effects, assessed 5 h after memantine administration and before naloxone administration, included significant increases in ratings of "strong" and "good" drug effect, and "I feel sedated", "mellow", and "high".
Conclusions: Memantine attenuated the expression of opioid physical dependence in humans, indicating that glutamatergic neurotransmission at the NMDA receptor site contributes to the maintenance of opioid dependence. This finding suggests that memantine may be a useful adjunct in the treatment of opioid dependence.