A fascinating article has appeared in the New York Times that delves into the benefits and the risks of buprenorphine, as well as the history of the drug.
Although some experts have been debating back and forth about the drug’s uses for treating addiction, it has certainly become a popular drug, now generating more than $1.5 billion in annual sales in the United States alone. The transition into commercial use occurred as the result of former officials being hired into the private sector at Reckitt Benckiser, lobbying for money for development and clinical trails, and then securing a seven-year patent against competition for their drugs Suboxone and Subutex.
Only recently has a generic version been approved for the public by the FDA, and even that was vigorously fought by Reckitt Benckiser. This has been one of the biggest problems for the pharmaceutical industry – where is the line crossed between seeking what’s best for the people rather than just what’s best for the company profits?
For the ever-growing number of buprenorphine users who praise the drug, having a cheaper generic version is incredibly helpful. It will also save taxpayers potentially hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing the amount paid out for the prescriptions through Medicaid coverage.
There is another side to the drug than just the benefits and profits, though, and that is the fact that any opioid still has abuse potential. With increased availability has also come increased overdose and dependency statistics as well. The appearance of the drug on the black market isn’t only the result of users, but also a fairly high portion of the doctors.
According to the Times article, there are less than 13,000 doctors in the U.S. who can prescribe buprenorphine, yet more than 1,300 of them have been sanctioned for offenses that include things such as fraud, misconduct, practicing while impaired and excessive narcotics prescribing. At a rate of more than 10 percent, this is somewhat shocking among a profession that is supposed to be held to very high standards.
Is this the result of money and power corrupting an elite group, or is it more of an indication of how powerful the drug really is in terms of its abuse potential? Some advocates for the drug still believe that it should primarily be used as a short-term opiate withdrawal aid, as when it shifted into a long-term maintenance drug it seemingly became more popular illicitly as well.
If you have a friend or family member struggling with addiction to any opiate, contact us today for information on successful intervention and treatment options.