Buprenorphine has been around since 1985 but it was only until 2002 that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two buprenorphine products (Suboxone and Subtex) for the treatment of opiate addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), buprenorphine has unique pharmacological properties that help:
- Lower the potential for misuse
- Diminish the effects of physical dependency to opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings
- Increase safety in cases of overdose
Unlike methodone which must be performed in a highly structured clinic, buprenorphine is permitted to be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices, significantly increasing treatment access. Buprehnorphine products, however, come with some serious side effects. According to the FDA, Suboxone has a number of physical, mental, and emotional side effects that can occur with its use, such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
- Small pupils
- Poor memory
- Erratic moods and behavior
On one hand, buprenorphine products can help addicts decrease dependence on opioids by decreasing withdrawal symptoms, but on the other, it’s still a narcotic with negative side effects. Not to mention that shortly after its approval in 2002, the diversion, trafficking, and abuse of buprenorphine started becoming more common the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
The Good and Bad of Widespread Availability
One reason behind the misuse of buprenorphine is its availability. Suboxone and Subtex are relatively easy to get for those that don’t have a prescription – all they have to do is find someone who has a prescription and is willing to sell leftover medication. Not only can you get it on the street easily, getting a prescription isn’t too hard either.
According to IMS Health, a company that collects data about the drugs U.S. doctors prescribe, Suboxone reached $1.4 billion in sales in the first quarter of 2012 – nearly 10 times the figure from 2006. In 2006, Suboxone was the 198th most commonly prescribed drug in the U.S. In 2015, it ranked 7th and its generic counterpart, buprenorphine-naloxone, ranked 4th.
The increased availability has affected more than just sales, it’s affecting hospitals too. A 2013 report by SAMHSA found the following:
- Emergency department (ED) visits involving buprenorphine increased substantially from 3,161 in 2005 to 30,135 visits in 2010, as availability of the drug increased
- In 2010, most buprenorphine-related ED visits were classified as nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals (52 percent, or 15,778 visits), followed by patients seeking detoxification or substance abuse treatment (24 percent, or 7,372 visits) and adverse reactions (13 percent, or 4,017 visits)
- Buprenorphine-related ED visits involving nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals increased 255 percent from 4,440 visits in 2006 to 15,778 visits in 2010
- Additional drugs were involved in 59 percent of buprenorphine-related ED visits involving nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals in 2010
Despite these startling numbers, doctors continue to prescribe buprenorphine and promote it for opiate addiction treatment.
Another problem with buprenorphine is that it can trap addicts in a cycle of relapse. They use buprenorphine to manage their withdrawal but end up returning to their drug of choice to achieve a stronger high. At Rally Point in West Palm Beach, we can give you the proper tools and guidance to conquer your addiction so you don’t end up trading it in for a new one or increasing your chances of a relapse with a questionable prescribed narcotic.