“In a lengthy front page story called: “Addiction Treatment with a Dark Side,” The New York Times recently drew attention to buprenorphine, a medication used to treat addiction to heroin and prescription opioids. As physicians and researchers studying addiction and its treatment, we were glad to see attention brought to the issue, but disheartened that the piece focused on patients and doctors involved in the misuse and diversion of buprenorphine, rather than on the lives saved and the harms averted by the appropriate use of this medication. The problem is not with buprenorphine, but with our failure to provide people struggling with opioid addiction appropriate support and access to treatment.
Diversion and street use of buprenorphine occur, but much of this illicit use is likely related to lack of access to treatment. Studies report that people are self-treating their withdrawal symptoms or opioid addiction, rather than seeking to get high. Less than 20 percent of those in need of opioid addiction treatment in the U.S. actually receive it, and we know that illicit buprenorphine use is associated with poor treatment access. Additionally, the uninsured, heroin-users, and predominantly people of color, are less likely to receive buprenorphine treatment than those with insurance for opioid painkiller addiction, whom are predominantly white. So poor treatment access affects some groups more than others. With our research, we are studying ways to facilitate entrance into opioid addiction treatment, so we worry that the fear and stigma that is stoked by articles like the one in the Times will only make entering treatment more difficult.
We may call addiction a disease, but we are a long way from treating it like one. Rather than disparaging buprenorphine and those who prescribe and use it, we should be embracing this medication and ensuring access to and appropriate use of it”.
See related article from the Washington Post. This drug could make a huge dent in heroin addiction. So why isn’t it used more? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaron-fox/buprenorphine-new-york-times_b_4324656.html
See related blog from the Institute on Research, Education, and Trainings in Addiction (IRETA) Drugs are Double Edged Three thoughts on the NYT buprenorphine story. http://iretablog.org/2013/11/22/drugs-are-double-edged/
Sources: HuffingtonPost.com – November 22, 2013, Washington Post.com – November 23, 2013, Ireta.com – November 22, 2013.