Yes, People Really Are Slaves to Suboxone

Yes, People Really Are Slaves to Suboxone


The Slavery of SuboxoneIf there is one thing Americans love it’s a quick fix. Once a country built on elbow grease and self-realized dreams, we have allowed amazing advances in technology corrupt us and make us literally and figuratively soft. We take escalators instead of stairs, use remote controls to change channels and have even made our bicycles electric. So it’s no surprise that, when it comes to addiction recovery, more people are throwing in the towel on hard work and introspection and going the way of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to avoid the pesky discomfort of opiate withdrawals (or having to actually change). But The New York Times recently posted a story showing us the other side of America’s latest get-clean-quick scheme.

Pandora’s Box

Meet April Hileman, a 24-year old single mom from Lebanon, Virginia—an area of the state that is kinda, sorta in the middle of nowhere yet a major hub for Oxycontin (or what some call “hillbilly heroin”) abuse. Hileman, like many other young people in the area became hooked opioid pain medication as a teen and has been trying to kick it, off an on, for several years. Ironically, a common treatment for opioid addiction is Suboxone, a prescription that combines buprenorphine (an opioid) with naloxone (an opioid blocker), with the idea that addicts can take wean off harder drugs with and not only avoid painful withdrawals but also dramatically lower their disk of overdosing (unlike methadone). That is, of course, if it is taken as prescribed. If it isn’t, then Suboxone is addictive. It can definitely fuck you up, even kill you, when smoked, snorted or mixed with benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium) which many people, including Hielman, are doing.

Though opioid addiction treatment with Suboxone, now referred to as MAT, has shown some promising results (or at least trackable ones), a large number of addicts, like Hileman, are either abusing it, misusing it or selling their prescription to score their drug of choice. Even the people who are taking it just to avoid getting sick are often using it instead of actually getting clean; as long-term solution rather than as it was intended, as bridge to sobriety. This has created the “Box wars,” where addicts chase down Suboxone to manage their addiction. So what was supposedly created to alleviate the problem as made it worse. As my grandmother would say, “Oy veys mere.”

You Were Saying Something About Best Intentions?

So how did we get here? Innocently enough I suppose. At some point in the last 20 years, it seems doctors began handing out powerful drug ‘scrips out like candy, a seeming redux from the Quaalude extravaganza of the 1980s, and people got hooked. But with the advancements of pain medication, it’s very possible that MD’s weren’t fully informed about how potent or addictive the meds were. It’s not like they are testing it themselves, so how would they know? They only know as much as the pharmaceutical reps tell them and the last time I heard, door-to-door salesmen don’t take ethical oaths.

But now we are really in trouble. While no one can deny that we had a drug problem in this country before Oxycontin hit the market—and even though crack and meth abuse are rampant (not to mention marijuana but that is a whole other story)—everyone is focused opioid addiction. Why? Well first of all because it’s killing people, a lot of people, many of them young. We don’t like it when young people die. Second, because unlike crack and meth, a significant number of the afflicted got hooked by accident, by simply taking pain medication prescribed by a doctor. And third, the fact that the drug often comes in pill form, quite possibly in a bottle, inferring that is not a dangerous and likely fatal drug but rather something that is medically regarded as safe and might even be purchased at Walgreens (though I don’t think you can actually get it at Walgreens).

Forced to Follow the Suboxone Brick Road

Last year, Hillary Clinton proposed a $10 billion plan to help arrest the ever-growing rate of opioid-related deaths in this country—one that has quadrupled since 2005—by dumping a shit-ton of money into government-funded treatment using MAT. And recently, President Obama proposed a 2017 budget that includes one billion for the expansion of MAT, so regardless of what we may be seeing on ground level, it appears that from the White House’s POV, MAT is the answer.

I suppose if temporarily saving lives is the bottom line, then it is. Statistics show that treatment with buprenorphine has decreased opioid overdose deaths by 50% when compared to behavioral therapy alone. Which makes me want to scream, “Duh!” since chemical addiction isn’t known to respond to behavioral therapy alone. Plus the fact that EMTs (and now civilians) have access to Naloxone pens has greatly contributed to this. But I would love to know how many of the people whose lives were saved have turned around and got high almost immediately after.


I am not saying MAT is a total wash—there are certainly reports that suggest, like anything, it works if you work it properly. It’s not intended to be a pill popped and forgotten as someone goes about their day; it’s supposed to be a component to a larger program. An aid during the difficult and fragile withdrawal period where many end up relapsing. But if used as a crutch, as an ala carte half-measure so addicts can avoid working on themselves, then it is my prediction that the results will continue to be disastrous.

If we are going to offer Suboxone, we need to focus on it as a temporary solution, figure out how to how to monitor people and keep them and ourselves accountable. Though I am sure financially, we can’t afford to, at this point, it seems we can’t afford not to.



  1. My roommate in rehab a few years ago was coming off Suboxone addiction. Prior to meeting him I’d barely heard of the drug. For most of 30 days he was bedridden, in absolute agony, couldn’t sleep and I had to ask staff permission to bring him food at times as he was too wiped out to even walk to the cafeteria. I was shocked to witness 1st hand how miserable an addiction to this drug can be. This guy is/was late 40s, so called normal family, normal white collar job, coached kids’ sport etc. Since that experience, when I read about Suboxone I wonder how many people abuse it as part of their MAT program. He originally was prescribed it to wean off painkillers I believe, after a back injury, but then manipulated a handful of primary care physicians in his small town to get multiple scripts for it at any given time. A staffer told him he should be dead after my roommate described the avg qty he took per day leading up to rehab…..

  2. Thanks, good read for me this am. I look forward to your work and am grateful to not be ixnayed from the sitenayed..

    I personally know of one Sub woofer.., An exception to the rule, which means if there’s one then there are many. So does Suboxone work? Does it really relieve opiate withdrawal? Yeah. For everybody? yeah. Can a person just stop opiates and still maintain a sufficient level of energy to keep up with the craziness they have created while high everyday? Sure..Does it relieve addiction? Well ,maybe. It depends what addiction is to you. Some are just abusers, emotionally stunted dented cans. While others show up at hospital gasping for air with a hook still in their mouths. Addiction man, it takes all kinds.

    This exception, this one person, this old pal o mine, who was pounding oxy 80’s for a couple of years, a few times a day everyday, script? no script.. Pay a buck a milligram on the street over the usual short script? no problem. Mortgage will wait, food, everything. Ah the mesmerizing sound of a full script, like a baby’s rattle. Big smile. He’s so happy..yes he is. Brand new fresh pills. GA HEAD GA HEAD…Roll it around in your mouth to remove the candy coated shell and then crush, scratch, and sniff. Mirror in the bathroom please don’t peek..Over and over, day in and day out. Oxy first, then children, wife, home, may as well say everything else.. So now that’s over. Suboxone saves Christmas!

    The new miracle pill. Honestly, when I heard about it I didn’t believe it. The one a day anti withdrawal drug to slip under his tongue. Nobody believes it but it is true. Take the pill and no more drugs? Apparently so. No more fear of the pharmacist for two weeks anticipating the denial ? No more Daddy’s a junkie? That’s it? The magic pill is here!

    And well? It’s been at least 10 years and it’s still here? He still takes his Subs. Personally I think it’s nuts but I’m not him. I didn’t and don’t live his life. I mean really, who am I to deny him his current life whatever or however different it may be from mine. He takes a pill everyday, see’s some kind of therapist or counselor. Drinks some beers once in a while. No hard stuff..

    Yes I have been addicted, yes I have guilt and shame from years of drunkenness and cruelty and remain abstinent..Yes I have a mind that creates unresolved issues daily. Yes AA or should I be more specific, (the Big Book 12 Steps) saved my ass and offered me life sober. Life after addiction. Yes I have more than I need or even want in life. Yes I have plenty to give away. But the one thing I don’t have, that I can never have? Is another mans addiction.

    If Science presents itself in the form of a Professional service, offers a way out that works for one other? take it, try it. If you are alcoholic and hopeless in your condition? I have the AA Big Book 12 Steps to offer you. The Spiritual answer. Take it, try it.

    Suboxone does what it’s supposed to do, it relieves opiate withdrawal. I guess the big question (what are you going to do now?) remains unaddressed much too often. This can horrify those of us who have seen past the opiate as the actual problem but hey, that’s us right? We need to remain available. Many will crash and burn without their opiates. If we keep an open mind maybe we are the ones to help when they are out of options. When their Spirit is gone we can offer ours until they are restored. We can offer hope to those who suffer in the loneliness and despair of addiction..

  3. A tapering protocol was never described by Reckitt Benckiser or required by the FDA before Suboxone was first approved. Despite concerns of this oversight being pointed out to Reckitt Benckiser, they still dodge the issue. Got to another recovery blog, Guinevere Gets Sober, and read her post, “Suboxone Deotx Redux” for info on tapering. Look for her other written concerns with Suboxone.

    Buprenorphine is now prescribed for severe pain (Butrans) and is being developed as a fast-acting antidepressant by Alkermes. At this stage, it hasn’t been given a brand name, but is known as ALKS 5461. It wasn’t approved by the FDA, but Alkermes is trying again. I’ve been following the status of ALKS 5461 and wrote about it in “The Coming Depression Apocalypse” and other articles.

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Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.