Some former addicts and doctors say Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat people who are addicted to opiates like heroin and OxyContin, is just another drug of addiction, but many others call it a life-saver, saying it helps addicts wean themselves off of opiate-based drugs.
Dr. Ronald Abramson is a psychiatrist who specializes in treating opiate addiction. My Fox Boston sat in on one of his weekly group therapy sessions for recovering addicts, all of whom use Suboxone as part of their treatment.
“Suboxone is a lifesaver,” said one patient. “It’s the reason why I’ve been able to make such progress. The doctor told me Suboxone is not only about getting over the physical withdrawals I was suffering from, but the Suboxone also allowed me to not have to deal with those urges that I had mentally going on in my head on a daily basis.”
Another patient said, “I felt kind of high the first time I took it, but after that it was just regular. I felt normal again. I didn’t feel like I was addicted to something, I didn’t feel like I needed more of it.”
Before Suboxone was introduced in 2003, opiate addicts trying to get clean could really only visit a methadone clinic every day and wait in line to get their dose. One patient said of methadone, “It’s a demeaning cycle is what it is. You stand in line, you get your dose, and then you’re off for the day.”
Another patient added, “Everyone in this group is doing something incredible and we don’t deserve to be standing in line at a clinic being looked down on.”
Suboxone, unlike methadone, can be prescribed by a doctor and taken by patients at home. “The capacity of this drug to salvage lives is enormous,” says Dr. Abramson. “At treating opiate addiction, I believe it does what it does better than any other psychiatric drug does what they do.”
He acknowledged that the drug is being diverted into the illegal drug market and being abused by some drug addicts. In May, My Fox Boston interviewed Jennifer Ulich, a recovering heroin addict. “I was buying Suboxone off the street, trying to de-tox myself, you know, wean myself off the heroin using Suboxone,” she said. “And I would take all of the Suboxone at once and get high off of it.” She also said all the Oxycontin and heroin dealers she knew started dealing Suboxone.
Dr. Abramson said that doctors who are authorized to prescribe Suboxone must do it responsibly and monitor their patients closely. “In general, I think people need counseling and therapy to go along with (Suboxone),” Dr. Abramson said. “They all have issues that need to be taken up, and if those issues are not addressed, they’ll get very tempted to go back to the life.”