Drugs Designed to Curb Opioid Addiction Also Being Abused

buprenorphinepillsSuboxone is a less-potent opioid drug used to treat opioid addiction. Although it has changed the lives of many addicts since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it more than a decade ago, Suboxone and generic drugs like it have not helped everyone.

Experts allege that drugs like Suboxone may be perpetuating the problem it is meant to help due to poor oversight of how the medication is dispensed and used. A major issue has arisen since these drugs are now being sold on the street alongside heroin and prescription painkillers. Instead of being used to control addiction, these drugs are being sold as a gateway substance to the more potent opioids that are overtaking our cities and suburbs.

“The benefits of the appropriate medical use of Suboxone probably far outweigh the potential for abuse,” says Eric Wish, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland. “But those benefits will be jeopardized if we don’t take care of this abuse issue.”

Before Suboxone, methadone was the most common treatment for opioid addiction. Methadone has a reputation for abuse, causes withdrawal symptoms that can rival those of heroin, and is only dispensed at methadone clinics. Suboxone, on the other hand, is available by prescription for take-home use, and is not as strong as methadone.

Rates of Suboxone abuse pale in comparison to abuse rates of prescription painkillers, heroin, and methadone; however, the number of emergency room visits involving the drug have increased tenfold over a five-year period, reaching more than 30,000 incidents in 2010. Over half of the incidents involved the nonmedical use of Suboxone or a similar generic version, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

The question is whether authorities should regulate the availability of the substance, which could induce high demand on the streets. Authorities could also loosen regulations, although many worry that fewer users will be under the care of a physician and that the substance would be more likely to fall into the wrong hands.