It is not far off the mark to say that drugs are a part of life. From an estimated 2.9 million Americans - or about 9.5% of the population - addicted to illicit and illegal drugs, to the rest of us that take prescribed or over the counter pills for every conceivable symptom, it has become accepted that for just about every situation, obstacle, ailment, or complaint one experiences, "there's a pill for that."
It is not the intent of this article to discuss the pros and cons of using drugs and/or medication to alleviate the harshness of life. Nor will it discuss why so much effort, time, and resources have gone into treating the symptom and not the disease (choose your own example for this). It will, however, talk about what it means to our society, particularly the financial impact, of drug/medication use.
Effective treatment programs for addiction must help the individual stop using drugs, maintain a drug-free lifestyle, and achieve productive functioning in the family, at work, and in society. Medications are an important element of treatment for many patients, especially when combined with counseling and other behavioral therapies. Certain drugs that ease the withdrawal symptoms can be important in the initiation of treatment, as well as prevent relapse. While medically assisted detoxification is not in itself a treatment, it can be an important first step in the treatment process. Medication can also be used to help reestablish normal brain function and to diminish cravings.
Companies that supply the research and materials for medicinal treatment are seeing tremendous growth. Identifying this trend and understanding how to benefit from it can be extremely rewarding for investors.
Currently, the biggest markets for medicinal treatment of addictions are, non-coincidentally, in the two biggest legalized drugs in the U.S.; alcohol and tobacco. Medications to curb tobacco (nicotine), and alcohol addiction are extremely popular. Let's look at each of these in turn.
A variety of nicotine replacement therapies are widely advertised, such as the patch, gum, and even smokeless cigarettes. In addition, the FDA has approved two prescription medications for tobacco addiction called bupropion and varenicline. These two drugs, marketed under the popular names Wellbutrin and Chantix, have been successfully used to treat not only smoking but depression and obesity as well.
These two drugs are the mainstays of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), a British multinational pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare company. Currently, it is the world's fourth-largest pharmaceutical company by prescription drug sales.
Although GlaxoSmithKline performed disappointingly in the second quarter of 2012, its missing the mark was primarily due to factors that do not necessarily reflect the company's direction or solidity. These include EU pricing pressures and a weaker performance in the U.S. due to generic competition and discontinuation of its other products.
Although GlaxoSmithKline continues to face challenges like U.S. healthcare reform, it has also made significant progress with its late-stage pipeline. This trend and the movement in drug-assisted addiction therapy make this company a good choice for investors.
There are three medications approved by the FDA for treating alcohol dependence: naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram. These drugs are unique as each tackles a different aspect of an alcohol addiction. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors - the "reward" center - thereby reducing the rewarding effects of drinking. Acamprosate reduces withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Disulfiram interferes with the digestion and breakdown of alcohol in the system, which results in lingering negative effects that occur after drinking such as headache and nausea.
Alkermes purchased Elan Drug Technologies (EDT) in September 2011 and moved its headquarters to Dublin, Ireland. Total revenue for the second quarter of fiscal 2013 jumped 72% to $124 million. This massive jump can be attributed to the 98.6% rise in manufacturing and royalty revenue it received from the purchase of EDT.
Specifically, Vivitrol, performed well in the second quarter. Sales of the product climbed approximately 53.5% year over year to $15.2 million. This and other factors led to Alkermes upping its outlook for fiscal 2013. The company now expects revenue in the range of $510 million to $540 million, up from previously estimated $490 to $530 million.
Disulfiram is marketed as "Antabuse" and is manufactured by Odyssey Pharmaceuticals, a wholly owned subsidiary Of TEVA Group (NYSE:TEVA). Together, TEVA, Alkermes, and Cephalon make up an astounding 92% of alcohol addiction medication market. This fact, coupled with the recent success in treating alcohol addiction with these two drugs, makes these companies good investments.
It should be noted that with these two mentioned medications, it is not only the manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies that benefit. It is rare that pharmaceutical companies sell anything direct - they need a pipeline. Retailers are also the big winners with medicinal treatment products.
While the previous two are specific to medications to heal addictive behavior, there are more companies out there that are thriving through offering other treatment services. One such company called Choose Help provides a wide variety of treatment services. With facilities in 15 states and a network that offers research, rehab programs, and expert advice on topics ranging from trauma to addiction and even bullying, this company is one of many that combine advice and action when it comes to medicinal treatment of addiction.
Clearly there are a great many steps from a consumer standpoint from over the counter drugs to a 28-day residential rehab program. However, for the investor, it can all be summed up with a clear direction on an ever-growing trend.
Drugs are being used to free people from addiction. The companies that supply those drugs, as well as those that offer them, are clear choices to invest in as this pattern continues.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.