In the U.S., an opioid epidemic is raging, and measures are being taken to prevent it from spreading further. One of them is the advice to carry naloxone in your bag to be able to help those overdosing whom you may happen to encounter in public places or anywhere else. Another measure is making opioid addiction treatment programs more accessible to a wider range of patients.
Such programs usually imply taking suboxone, a medication which is based on buprenorphine and naloxone, with the former being a semi-synthetic opioid and the latter being a chemical that blocks opioid effects.
The drug is prescribed so often that ‘overprescription’ would be the right word to describe the situation. Despite its being expensive (with a more affordable generic about to hit the marked as it has recently been approved by the FDA), the drug is often prescribed by doctors who prefer to offer the medication instead of using a comprehensive holistic approach and helping the patient stay sober.
The wrong way
The reason they do it is the seeming ease of tackling the problem: you swallow the magic pill, they say, and your addiction becomes easy to overcome. To some extent, it holds true: the medication can alleviate the symptoms characteristic of withdrawal. It is actually a drug which can be effectively used during a detox. What is often neglected by doctors is that it is not designed for long-term use as a monotherapy, since it should be combined with other means of handling addiction.
It is a lucrative business: a patient comes to a doctor, and instead of offering help and advising to overcome the addiction to an illegal drug, they prescribe suboxone as a “maintenance drug” which can keep symptoms at bay – it is costly and creates an illusion of treatment. The truth is, this way of “treatment” means substituting one substance for another, which is probably no better (although legal). Long-term use of suboxone leads to a wide range of health problems and to another kind of addiction.
Compared to opioids, eliminating suboxone from your body is even more difficult. While the average detox from opioids takes up to 14 days, the drug in question stays in the body for eight to nine days, which results in the detox period being extended to several weeks or months. Depression, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, muscle and joint pain, and other symptoms manifest themselves during detox, and this combination of both physical and psychological problems makes suboxone a nightmare for patients, as they cannot stop taking it and become trapped in the vicious circle of addiction.
Something needs to be done
If used by a trained professional, suboxone can make the transition to a sober life easier, but many doctors abuse their right to prescribe drugs and recommend that patients take these alone, without addressing other problems, including psychological ones. It is no wonder that many patients find themselves unable to stop taking either and end up overdosing as tolerance develops.
With more patients jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, the situation is close to coming to a head. It is evident that doctors should be trained better and informed about the adverse effects that follow long-term suboxone use. Likewise, patients should be informed that taking the drug won’t cure them, and it takes a comprehensive approach to overcome the addiction, be it painkiller, heroin or some other addiction.
While it can be of help when the patient faces the challenge of detoxing, counseling and other therapies aimed at helping tackle the problem of both the psychological and the physical addictions should be used, as they are of utmost importance. Otherwise the patient may relapse, which is likely to happen if a suboxone long-term program alone is prescribed.