Prescription Opioid Addiction Can Be Treated with Suboxone, Study Shows

The first large-scale study of treatment for addiction to prescription opioids finds the drug Suboxone (buprenorphine plus naloxone) can be an effective therapy. The study found adding intensive counseling for opioid dependence was not helpful, however.

The study, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), included 650 people addicted to prescription painkillers, ABC News reports. They were treated with Suboxone, which mimics some of the effects of opioids, while reducing drug cravings, the article notes.

Half of the participants also received intensive counseling. Over the course of 12 weeks, 49 percent of participants reduced prescription painkiller abuse. Once they stopped taking Suboxone, the success rate dropped to 8.6 percent. The reduction in painkiller abuse was seen regardless of whether participants said they suffered from chronic pain.

“The study suggests that patients addicted to prescription opioid painkillers can be effectively treated in primary care settings using Suboxone,” NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD, said in a news release. “However, once the medication was discontinued, patients had a high rate of relapse—so more research is needed to determine how to sustain recovery among patients addicted to opioid medications.”

The results appear in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

14 Responses

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    stephen ringer

    November 12, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    The problem with these trials is simple. Stop thinking Suboxone is any different than Methadone. Utilzing Suboxone for a brief two to four week detox, as it was initially intended, is still very effective. We have been doing it for two years now with over 50% sustained abstinence after one year. Suboxone without IOP is absurd. I suspect the poor response is more a reflection of the quality of treatment. Try using recovering addicts who know what it is like to detox and then live clean for the first six months. We now have created a nation of Suboxone dependent addicts…now what do we use to get them off the Suboxone? Sometimes I wonder if these folks doing these trials ever actually used any opiates or understand what the addict needs to change his/her life once the drug is gone. Oh well, another waste of money and time but I am sure the Suboxone folks will be glad to keep selling their poison, I mean replacement drug therapy, to the masses at $5 a pill…and suggesting 16 milligrams a day is a good dose. We stabalize addicts shooting 30 bags of heroin a day on 8 to 12 mgs in three days.
    Suboxone rep comes by often…wonders why we aren’t selling more like all the other local doctors.

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    November 12, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    The question is: why was the suboxone stopped? Presumably none of these people were selected for the study because he or she was one of the chronic pain patients taking only what one MD prescribed? These patients were much better off on suboxone and off, or on much reduced, Rx painkillers, than they were before; so what is wrong with a long-term maintenance program? Puritanism. The idea that people can be left to decide for themselves when to go through withdrawl and the life-work of becoming clean is anathema to some people, just as any kind of treatment of addiction that approaches harm reduction or even a non-punitive approach is.

    It is true that being on long-term therapy with suboxone limits people’s lives, but so do many other treatments for diseases. It’s much better than being without treatment, and it’s less mind-altering than being on many high-dose regimens to treat epilepsy, for example. Having the alternative of abstinence always available is essential, and it is only ethical to offer patients a choice, since treatment options for a life in our society have such a low success rate, compared to suboxone maintenance.

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    Joseph D. Anticoli

    November 12, 2011 at 3:12 AM

    My personal and professional experience has shown me that the only ethical, workable, and effective way to treat substance use disorders is determined by what’s best suited to each individual case and the likelihood of its incorporation. The more diverse the options are, the better the outcomes will be. We must meet the client where THEY are at and move from there; not from some pretentious ideal. It’s absurd and childish to expect a hijacked brain to act contrary to the trajectory determined by metabolic inertia. The only responsibility the individual has is to them self and those who they interact with. The implied accountability each relationship presents is defined only to the degree it does not obstruct or harm anyone else’s freedom of choice; including what foods or substances one chooses to consume. The common denominator our citizenship is determined by is the implied social contract we have with each other. The social contract is defined only by its primary purpose, e.g. I expect a certain level of performance when you drive your car and you expect the same from me. Trying to control secondary, conditional elements like what others eat, drink, inhale or supposite RECTALLY is a distortion of the primary purpose. Any truth which is not self-evident is corrupted by the ego with its opinions and desire to control others. If I choose to, or choose not to utilize medication-assisted treatment, whether it be buprenorphine or methadone, is MY choice and nobody else’s.

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    November 11, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    Subuxone is an effective drug substitution but not a wise or ethical long-term approach to recovery. The same was said of methadone when it was first used. The problem, of course, is that encouraging people to remain addicted to anything is unethical. The drug certainly has it’s place in the tool box, but it is not “the answer” to opiate addiction. The suboxone approach really bothers me and many of my colleagues because 1. Addicts will naturally make the choice to take another opiate pill rather than go participate in more traditional therapies, self-help and treatement. 2. The entire suboxone movement has in inherent financial motive for physicians and pharmaceutical companies. 3. There is an undertone running through the national suboxone initiative that suggests that opiate addicts are unable to achieve recovery without using another opiod drug. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of recovering opiate addicts in the U.S. today.
    Much more research,practice design, and prescriber accountability needs to take place in the suboxone arena in order for the practice to be fully embraced by many working with addictive disorders.

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    November 10, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    Yes, it confirms what I already knew as well.
    For those who think suboxone is NOT a long term strategy, I sure would like to know what is. I have been in this business as a provider for 18yrs. It has been a godsend for these folks as I remember the suffering these clients would go through prior to suboxone. Our next challenge is to see if vivitrol pans out for opiate dependence. Many people may prefer it as it is not an opiate. We’ll just have to see, but at 1,200.00 a shot, yikes!

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