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.

Suboxone Abuse Finds Its Way Into Prisons

suboxonestripsSuboxone is a drug used to treat opiate addiction that was designed to reduce withdrawal symptoms through a tapering process. It is a combination of a synthetic opioid called buprenorphine and an opiate antagonist called naloxone. This mixture was designed to also prevent someone from overdosing on the drug.

Despite some careful measures, the drug eventually found its way to the street and, according to reports from multiple states, into prisons as well.

Most recently, a feature article in Cleveland, OH detailed some of the problems that the department of corrections is having with inmates smuggling in Suboxone for illicit consumption. Officials there have indicated that there has been an increase in the number of incidents involving Suboxone smuggling.

The drug’s maker had introduced a thin strip taken orally rather than a pill and unsuccessfully tried to prevent generic pill versions from entering the market. Ironically, their safety concerns for the pill vs. the strip were cited in the objection, yet both are abused on the street.

In just over a decade Suboxone prescriptions have grown from zero to many millions, and there are reportedly more than 22,000 doctors in the U.S. who prescribe the drug. Despite its inevitable misuse, the drug has been primarily lauded as a safer alternative to methadone for treating people addicted to opiates.