Is Suboxone a Cure for Painkiller Addiction?

Is Suboxone a Cure for Painkiller Addiction?

Sales of painkillers have risen by 300 percent since 1999. Along with that the number of people abusing them and dying from overdoses has increased. The nation’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 100 people die every day from drug overdose, the majority of which are prescription painkillers. In fact, deaths from drug overdose have tripled since 1990. Prescription painkillers take more American lives than heroin and cocaine together. Some are hoping that a drug called Suboxone could help stem the tide.

Prescription painkillers are most often given to patients following dental surgeries or for management of chronic pain/illness. The top three prescription drugs of abuse are:

  • Opioids: These are pain relieving drugs the most often prescribed of which are oxycodone (brand names OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Fentanyl), codeine and methadone.
  • Benzodiazepines: These drugs are used to reduce anxiety and aid sleep. The most popularly prescribed of these are alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and diazepam (Valium).
  • Amphetamines: These are drugs used to stimulate the central nervous system and are most often used to treat ADHD. Methylphenidate (aka Ritalin or Concerta) and dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR) are the most notable.

A team of researchers from Mclean Hospital, which is associated with the Harvard Medical School, conducted the first sizable study of prescription drug abuse limited to those who were addicted to opioids. The team worked with 653 opioid abusers who sought outpatient treatment for their addiction.

The randomized trial treated participants at multiple sites in a two-phase treatment mode. Phase I saw patients stabilized with Suboxone treatments, followed by a tapering off period of 2 weeks and concluding with an 8 week follow up sans medication. Those who failed to recover in Phase I were admitted to Phase II which began with a 12-week Suboxone induced stabilizing period, followed by 4 weeks of tapering off and an 8-week post-medication follow-up.

Although the researchers felt that the study population was nearly perfect – addicts had short histories of substance abuse, they were mostly employed and the majority had never before sought drug treatment – the results were less than ideal. During Phase I, 6.6 percent of participants successfully beat their addiction through Suboxone treatment. During Phase II, 49.2 percent of participants found similar success. However, 90 percent of those involved in the study relapsed during the tapering off periods, revealing that Suboxone provided only the most temporary recovery.

Research physicians call the study a cautionary tale that highlights the necessity of further studies in order to determine if long-term Suboxone treatment could lead to freedom from prescription drug addictions. With prescription abuse statistics rising and overdose deaths mounting, viable solutions are needed. In the meantime, most abusers of prescription drugs manage to get them from friends or relatives so, for now, proper use, storage and destruction of unused prescription medications is still the best hedge against the soaring drug-related figures.

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