Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Does Suboxone work as a treatment model for opioid addiction?

It is with great interest that I am hearing all the press being given to the crisis of opioid and heroin addiction in our country. On my way into my office today, I heard a piece on NPR that discussed this crisis along with a sound bite from President Obama. Afterwards, they discussed Suboxone as a possible treatment therapy. As someone with a family member who struggled with a heroin addiction and tried Suboxone as a treatment therapy, I would like to give my own 2 cents about the use of Suboxone as a treatment for getting off heroin or dealing with opioid addiction.

Suboxone is a daily medication that is given under doctor's supervision. It is a strip that is dissolved under the tongue. Not every doctor can prescribe Suboxone therapy. You must find a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction treatment and is licensed to prescribe Suboxone. Each licensed doctor can only have 100 Suboxone patients they treat at a time. Legislation is working to increase that number to 200 patients per doctor.

Like methadone, it will help the heroin addict to not use heroin by substituting another (albeit highly addictive) drug to the user's system. If the user is driven to stop using heroin or other opioids, they might be a successful candidate for Suboxone use. However, Suboxone, like heroin, must be taken at a regular time, or the user will go into uncomfortable withdrawals. Many Suboxone users say Suboxone is a harder drug to use and get off of than heroin. (Read this account, and use care with Suboxone) In my family member's case, they quickly discounted the Suboxone use, returned to using heroin, and sold Suboxone as a street drug. Suboxone is not for everyone.

Other treatment models are available that can be a much better choice than Suboxone.  This article discusses other medications on the horizon for opioid addicts. Personally, and it goes without saying that my family member has not tried all the methods listed in the article, I have seen promise with a drug called Vivitrol. Vivitrol is an injection given once a month. Unlike opioids such as methadone and Suboxone, which produce a limited buzz to control cravings, Vivitrol dulls the brain's receptors so users don't feel cravings and won't get a high even if they take opioids. It can help reduce cravings and assist the addict in making more positive choices in life. Just knowing they are not going to be able to get high (or will get instantly very sick if they use opioids) allows them to occupy their life with things other than drug procurement and use.

From What is Vivitrol:
"Vivitrol ... can treat both opiate and alcohol addiction. It blocks other opioids from acting on the receptors in the brain and can also help ease drug cravings. By blocking the effects of other opioids it takes away the pleasurable effect, with can help with preventing relapse. Although it is not fully understood as to why an opioid antagonist works in treating alcoholism, it is believed that Vivitrol blocks the pleasurable effects of alcohol by blocking the release of endorphins caused by alcohol. This treatment can help you stop misusing opioids and alcohol and, when combined with counseling, can help you rebuild your life."
I am really hopeful about the changes in our society towards the stigma of addiction and drug abuse, and with new treatment methods being developed to help our loved ones. Granted, nothing can tear apart a family like living with an addicted person, but once treatment goals are accepted, treating an addicted person with compassion and hope is so much more productive than the alternative.

As a society, I believe we can effect positive change on the terrible opioid addiction epidemic gripping our country and in helping our loved ones battling this disease.