To the surprise of no one who understands addiction, addicts (with the help of their prescribing doctors) are abusing prescription drugs designed to get people off opioids such as prescription painkillers and heroin. Now who would ever have guessed that a system that involves a marriage between addicts and pharmaceutical companies would lend itself so readily to abuse?
Subux-on the Street
According to a story in The Courier-Journal of Louisville, prescriptions for Suboxone and its generic equivalent rose 63 percent in Kentucky in a two-year span—from 69,640 in the first quarter of 2012 to 113,713 in the first quarter of this year. While some of this was attributed to the fact that more and more docs are doling out Suboxone prescriptions to combat the growing opiate epidemic, the drug is also increasingly being abused, sold on the streets and inappropriately prescribed.
“Suboxone abuse is huge,” Karyn Hascal, president of The Healing Place, a Louisville recovery facility, told the Courier Journal. “For some, it’s their primary drug of addiction. They’re choosing it over other drugs.”
The abuse is taking many forms—from patients selling their pills on the street (for as much as $30 a pop for a single eight milligram dose) to doctors over-prescribing (or not adequately monitoring patients to ensure that they are ingesting the prescribed dose of the drug) with many doctors operating on a cash-only basis for office visits involving Suboxone. The article focuses primarily on three young opioid addicts who anecdotally detail their stories of abuse, which range from obtaining multiple scripts from various doctors and selling off the pills to dissolving their prescribed Suboxone strips in water and shooting the mixture into their veins.
The New Kid is Already Popular
This story follows an investigative piece that ran last August in the Pennsylvania-based Tribune Review and reported similar patterns of abuse from both addicts and doctors. That piece cited figures from the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland that Suboxone sales exceeded $1.4 billion in 2012, which was more than 10 times that of the $137 million generated in 2006. More tellingly, police seizures of the drug increased nationally from 21 in 2003 to more than 8,000 by 2010, the center reported.
“This illegal diversion and street sale has been documented for some time now, and it’s occurring across the nation,” Gary Tennis, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs, told the Tribune Review.
Let’s Get Real Here
Expecting addicts not to abuse a drug that has the same components of the drug that they’re addicted to is, at best, ridiculous. And expecting the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry to act in the best interests of the consumer is a little foolish as well. I’m not saying that the drug, when administered and monitored appropriately, can’t be a huge boon to addicts trying to kick. It’s just that the potential for abuse for those who plan to stay on it well past detox, given the nature of those populations, is astronomical.
Need an example of just how pathetic we addicts can be? When I was in my (hopefully) last detox at a Boston hospital about 11 years ago, I was with a number of young heroin and Oxycontin addicts, and one of the drugs they gave us to help with withdrawal symptoms was Clonidine patches, which lower blood pressure and curb anxiety. So a handful of my fellow patients decided to remove the patches from their arms and chew them in order to get high while in detox. The staff discovered the plot and discharged all of the offenders except my roommate, who had passed out standing up and fallen straight to the floor, breaking his nose and earning a trip to the ER.
It’s a Small World After All
An interesting sidenote to all of this, for me, is what I discovered while doing research for this post—namely that the attending physician while I was in that detox—the one who prescribed my perfectly legitimate Librium—was charged last year with yup, illegally prescribing Suboxone. Which means that I could have easily been one of those guys out there trying to score on the streets an addictive drug I’d been prescribed by someone I trusted. Let’s just say I’m grateful to be someone reporting on this, rather than a part of the scary story.