Since gaining FDA approval in 2002 and becoming available in 2003, Suboxone, a formulation of the partial opioid agonist buprenorphine, has been used effectively to fight opioid dependence. By mimicking the effects of an opioid—but to a lesser extent—while also blocking other opioids from taking effect, buprenorphine, along with forms of treatment such as counseling, can help people with opioid dependencies gradually transition from opioid use.
Working in conjunction with the buprenorphine in Suboxone is naloxone, a medication that prevents overdoses and misuse of Suboxone by preventing other opioids from affecting the patient’s receptors. This minimizes the risk of respiratory depression and does not interfere with the buprenorphine’s effects when taken properly.
According to a 2007 survey by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 22.3 million people age 12 and older are classified as having a substance dependence or abuse; of that figure, 3.7 million were dependent on or abused illicit drugs but not alcohol. Another 3.2 million people were classified as dependent on both illicit drugs and alcohol. During that year, pain relievers and heroin were the fourth and fifth most treated substance dependencies/abuses, respectively. However, in 2007, only 3.9 million people received treatment for alcohol or illicit drug use.
Might less invasive, cost-effective forms of treatment such as Suboxone increase willingness to receive treatment?
As an alternative to methadone, Suboxone patients are less likely to abuse the treatment, given that the naloxone inhibits misuse by injection. Another advantage of Suboxone is that it can be self-administered at home after the induction phase of treatment. This reduces the interference of treatment on patients’ lives and may help to allay some of the stigma associated with opioid dependence and treatment.