11 Apr Pair Caught Peddling Suboxone, a Drug Used to Treat Addiction
Acting on a tip, two police deputies from Dutchess County in New York went to a plaza in the town of Wappinger to find Dillon Farmer and Sara Boulerice. The officers found that the tip paid off and the two were caught peddling opiates. This wasn’t an opiate widely associated with abuse such as oxycodone — it was actually buprenorphine mixed with naloxone (Suboxone), a drug combination commonly used as a treatment for opiate addiction. The finding is somewhat surprising because, generally speaking, it’s assumed that the drug has a reduced potential for abuse, but learning more about the substance and the story reveals the perils of treating drug addiction with potentially addictive drugs.
Drug Dealers Pushing a Treatment on Addicts
Farmer and Boulerice, aged 22 and 29, respectively, were caught outside the New Hackensack Plaza by the two officers, and were apprehended and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance. This is a felony, and in the absence of the $5,000 bail or a $10,000 bond, they have both been sent to the local jail. It was determined that despite their presence at the plaza, neither of the dealers worked for any businesses at the plaza and their activity was entirely unrelated to the companies there. Instead, it just seems like it was the pair’s chosen location to push their unusual choice of drug.
What Is Suboxone?
Understanding Suboxone and what it’s used for helps you understand why this story is so unusual. The drug is used as a treatment for opiate addiction in a similar fashion to methadone, except it’s assumed to have a lower potential for abuse. The two separate drugs in Suboxone, buprenorphine and naloxone, have different effects. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it stimulates the opioid receptors in the brain but not as strongly as “full” opioid agonists like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The effect of this is that it binds to the same areas of the brain (and therefore reduces cravings for opiates), but does so with less intensity and generally produces little more than a mild effect. This is one of the main reasons it’s used as a treatment for opiate addiction, and the “ceiling effect,” in which larger doses of the drug don’t produce a more notable effect, is another factor assumed to reduce its potential for abuse.
Ordinarily, drug abusers attempt to circumvent these measures by crushing a tablet to either snort or inject it in order to get a faster, more intense hit. This is where naloxone comes in, the component of Suboxone known as an opioid antagonist. Naloxone “blocks” the receptors for opioids without producing an effect, and can even “knock” stronger opiates out of position and bring on withdrawal. With ordinary use, this substance is hardly absorbed by the user, but if the tablets are crushed with the intention being abused, the blocker is absorbed more readily and prevents the opiates from producing their euphoric effects.
Limited Abuse Potential?
Knowing all of this about the substance, it seems inherently unusual that dealers would choose to try and sell it. There could be many potential explanations for this, but there is a chance that it’s because users are still able to get the desired effects from the drug. Recreational users have reported that it provides a long-lasting buzz, and some may even use it as a method of self-treatment because they can’t afford to go to a doctor. It may do its job when used properly, but as with many pharmaceutical opiates, it can still be abused by determined and dependent users. It’s also available in dissolvable strips, which makes the substance widely used as a heroin substitute in prisons because it’s easier to smuggle in. However, just like illicit drugs and “full” opiates, Suboxone abuse can lead to overdose, continued addiction and death.
Why Abstinence Approaches Matter
The story is an important reminder that no matter how hard we may try to produce treatments with reduced abuse potential, there will be ways users can circumvent the intention and use them to get high. Abstinence-based treatment looks particularly appealing in light of such cases. With abstinence, after the initial withdrawal process, the crutch of addiction is gone and the user learns to stand on his or her own two feet without the support of substitute substances.
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