In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription pain medication. During that same time, as many as one in four people who received opioids for treatment of long-term pain in primary care settings struggled with an opioid use disorder.
When you factor in that heroin use has also been on the rise and heroin overdose death rates have increased by 20.6 percent from 2014 to 2015…well, it’s pretty clear to see we have a major problem on our hands.
An Untapped Resource
To combat this growing epidemic, doctors have the option of utilizing medication-assisted treatment (MAT), an evidence-based form of treatment that uses a prescribed medication, such as buprenorphine (Suboxone), in conjunction with counseling and behavior therapies.
When undergoing MAT, specifically Suboxone, the prescribed medication performs several functions, including:
- Blocking the euphoric effects of opioids
- Relieving physiological cravings
- Normalizing brain chemistry
The Truth About Suboxone
Suboxone has been proven clinically effective and has significantly reduced the need for inpatient detox services, yet it’s greatly underused due to widespread misconceptions.
Let’s address some of these common misconceptions, then separate fact from fiction:
- Suboxone is Just Substituting One Drug for Another
Medication-assisted treatment is much like using medication to treat other chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes. Physical dependence to these medications, then, is a natural progression, and isn’t the same thing as being addicted. Being dependent on them means, if you stop taking these medications, you’ll experience some type of withdrawal symptom. Does this mean you’re addicted? No, it simply means your body has become accustomed to taking a certain medication. Many other substances – such as coffee or sugar – can also produce the same type of physical dependence.Additionally, when someone switches from an opioid to Suboxone, their addictive behavior often stops. Because Suboxone inhibits physical cravings and prevents any pleasurable effects if they use, the vicious cycle of chemical dependency can be broken.
- Suboxone Makes You High
Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist. Which means each time Suboxone is taken, it gets “stuck” in the brain’s opiate receptors for an entire day, stopping any chance of getting high from its’ use. Buprenorphine also blocks the effects of “full” opioids, including the high from using and any pain relief. Due to these reasons, Suboxone has a substantially lower abuse potential than other MAT medications, such as methadone.
- Suboxone Doesn’t Work
The opiate withdrawal process can be painful and dangerous, which is why so many treatment methods are ineffective – such as quitting cold turkey. This method of total abstinence has the lowest success rate (fewer than 25 percent of patients are able to remain abstinent for a full year).Suboxone, on the other hand, offers a less traumatic way to get and stay sober. As such, success rates for Suboxone, as measured by retention in treatment and one-year sobriety, have been reported as high as 40 to 60 percent.
As you can see, Suboxone has numerous advantages. Even though recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – what works for one person may not work for the next – this form of treatment often serves as a great weapon in the fight against the opioid epidemic. And let’s be honest, we need all the weapons we can get our hands on if we’re going to win the war.
Additional Reading: Recovery Roundtable – Should Doctors Be Allowed to Prescribe More Suboxone?
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