IV Opioid Users Show Interest In Buprenorphine Treatment
Buprenorphine is an opioid medication approved in the early 2000s as a treatment for people addicted to both legal and illegal opioid substances. This medication has a proven record of effectiveness, but current evidence indicates that doctors don’t often prescribe it to their opioid-affected patients. In a study published in March 2014 in the journal Substance Abuse, researchers from five U.S. institutions sought to determine how many people that use/abuse an IV (intravenous) opioid drug are aware of buprenorphine as a treatment option. These researchers also assessed IV opioid users’ willingness to participate in buprenorphine-based treatment.
What Is Buprenorphine?
It might seem strange that a doctor would prescribe an opioid medication to help a person affected by opioid addiction; however, buprenorphine does not produce its effects as rapidly as heroin or other commonly abused opioids (or the opioid medication methadone); in addition, the medication has a relatively low maximum level of effect, and people who keep using it after reaching this level will not get any more “high.” In combination, these qualities make buprenorphine suitable as either a short-term or long-term option for people addicted to stronger opioids that enter treatment. Essentially, use of the medication makes it possible for recovering addicts to avoid uncontrolled substance intake while simultaneously avoiding the highly distressing symptoms of complete opioid withdrawal. One commonly used prescription product, called Subutex, contains only buprenorphine. Another commonly used product, called Suboxone, contains both buprenorphine and a second medication (naloxone) that effectively decreases the risks for buprenorphine abuse.
Effectiveness And Access Of Buprenorphine
Numerous studies have verified the effectiveness of buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone as treatments for opioid addiction and opioid dependence (a state of physical reliance that does not include the dysfunctional symptoms of addiction). In addition, unlike methadone, which can only be administered to patients in a fairly small number of sanctioned clinics, any doctor who obtains a mandated ID number from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency can prescribe buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone. This means that, theoretically, people affected by opioid addiction can get buprenorphine-based treatment in a far greater number of locations than they can gain access to methadone. Thousands of doctors across the U.S. have gone through the training needed to properly prescribe buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone and have also registered with the DEA.
Awareness Among IV Opioid Users
In the study published in Substance Abuse, researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the City University of New York, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Montefiore Medical Center and New York Harm Reduction Educators used an examination of 158 IV opioid users in New York City to assess how many such users know about buprenorphine as a treatment option for opioid addiction. All of these users were participants in a syringe exchange program. In addition to gauging basic awareness among these individuals, the researchers used interviews to determine how many people had received some form of buprenorphine and how many people displayed a willingness to try the medication or learn more about it. The researchers also looked for any connection between established familiarity with buprenorphine and the willingness to use the medication.
All told, the researchers found that most of the study participants (70 percent) had heard about buprenorphine as a possible treatment option. Roughly one-third of the participants (32 percent) had first-hand knowledge of someone who took buprenorphine, while another third (31 percent) had second-hand knowledge of someone who took the medication. Only 12 percent of all the individuals enrolled in the study had received buprenorphine themselves. When the researchers asked the 138 participants with no personal history of buprenorphine use if they were curious about using the medication, more than half of these individuals (57 percent) replied in the affirmative. Upon further investigation, the researchers concluded that curiosity about buprenorphine use was basically limited to those participants with second-hand knowledge of the medication.
The authors of the study published in Substance Abuse note that the opioid users enrolled in their project were among those that may be overlooked by programs offering treatment for opioid addiction. Even still, most of these individuals knew about the medication and many showed a willingness to learn more about it or possibly use it as a treatment option. The study’s authors believe that public health officials should explore the interest shown by those IV opioid users with second-hand knowledge of buprenorphine as a potential inroad for eventually making active treatment with the medication more widespread.
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