Suboxone for Drug Addiction Treatment – Underappreciated or Unwelcome?

Suboxone for Drug Addiction Treatment – Underappreciated or Unwelcome?

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the US and poses a significant public health risk in coming decades. Prescription drug addicts are typically more successful and affluent than those addicted to crack cocaine or heroin. Most come from good families, do well in school, and are successful in their careers. Because they have access to doctors or have money, they are able to afford the high cost of a prescription drug addiction.

Not every prescription drug addict starts out abusing drugs. Very often, the addict starts as a patient who is prescribed a pain killer after a surgery or a particularly harsh illness. Unfortunately, some of these patients will become dependant on these drugs, either due to persistent pain or because they are predisposed to an addiction. Others start taking addictive medicine because of a sleep disorder or anxiety condition. No matter how it starts, however, addiction to prescription drugs runs a typical course.

When we think of prescription drug abuse, we most often think of addiction to Vicodin or, more recently, OxyContin. These opiates are highly addictive painkillers that provide the user with a sense of well being. As the person develops a tolerance to the drug, he must ingest increasingly larger doses, or move to increasingly more addictive substances, in order to achieve the same high. Hard core addicts will often resort to snorting or shooting the medicine, once taking a pill orally fails to produce the necessary rush.

Addiction to prescription drugs happens fast. It also has a powerful grip. Withdrawal symptoms for prescription drugs are particularly harsh and addicts will take drastic measures to ensure that they never have to experience those feelings. Because the addict will often need increasingly large doses of drugs in order to avoid withdrawal, the cost of a prescription drug addiction can be staggering. Addicts often spend up to one hundred dollars a day in order to obtain these costly drugs.

Once a person who is addicted to narcotics is no longer able to obtain a high enough rush from the prescription drugs, he often moves to heroin as it provides a greater high. However, heroin is also much more expensive. Because the person is an addict, work often suffers and the flow of money eventually dries up. What’s left is a drug addict who is unable to afford his fix. At this point, treatment is the only option.

Some drug addiction treatment professionals adhere to the belief that true recovery can only be achieved if an addict completely eliminates addictive substances from his life. This often results in a “cold turkey” approach to kicking a drug habit. Others, however, believe that recovery is most effective when the addict is kept comfortable during withdrawal and the recovery period. This often results in the addict being placed on a different drug regimen. Problems often arise with this method of addiction treatment, however, when the addict becomes addicted to the drug used to treat the original addiction.

Heroin addiction is historically difficult to treat and “cold turkey” cessation of heroin or narcotics is incredibly dangerous. Medical professionals have developed a way to wean these addicts off the drugs in a non-painful way. For decades, the drug methadone had been used to treat addiction. However a new drug, Suboxone (buprenorphine or “bupe”), has been shown to be effective at treating drug addiction.

Suboxone was introduced in the US in 2002 and has been used in place of methadone. Unlike users of methodone, however, those who take bupe are limited in the strength of the high they can achieve, and do not experience the slowness or cessation of breathing that those on methodone experience. Doctors believe that these characteristics make bupe less addictive, and less deadly, than methadone.

When it was introduced in France years earlier, bupe reduced the number deaths from drug overdoses by over eighty percent. Public health officials around the US were hopeful that it would produce similar results here.

Suboxone is much easier to administer than methadone, making it more attractive to public health agencies. While methadone users must visit a clinic every day to drink their dose, creating de facto gatherings of former drug addicts all over the community, Suboxone is prescribed by a doctor and obtained at a pharmacy once a month. Suboxone also does not cause users to nod, like those on methadone do. This makes Suboxone users better able to function at work.

While Suboxone and methadone have been embraced by the public health community as a viable treatment, private practitioners are not convinced that it is the best way to treat drug addiction. In essence, users of these substances bounce from one drug of choice to the other and, in order to truly recover from addiction, some believe that addicts must cease taking drugs, period.

Although heroin addiction is on the rise among young people in the US, not all medical professionals have embraced Suboxone as the preferable alternative to methadone. First, U.S. federal law requires doctors to take a day-long course and pass a test prior to being able to prescribe it. Also, methadone is big business – for-profit methadone clinics would be put out of business if Suboxone were to replace methadone as the addiction treatment drug of choice. Thus, the methadone industry is working hard to ensure that Suboxone stays at the fringes of drug addiction treatment.

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