More than two in five people receiving buprenorphine, a drug commonly used to treat opioid addiction, are also given prescriptions for other opioid painkillers – and two-thirds are prescribed opioids after their treatment is complete, a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study suggests.
The findings, published Feb. 23 in the journal Addiction, demonstrate the need for greater resources devoted to medication-assisted treatment, a common clinical tool to address the epidemic.
The idea behind medication-assisted treatment is that patients are given low-dose opioids that produce some of the effects of opioids while staving off physical withdrawal symptoms. The low-dose opioids produce weaker effects than drugs such as oxycodone or heroin, which come with the risk of addiction and overdose. With medication-assisted treatment, rigorous studies have shown that patients are more able to remain healthy and productive members of society.
Historically, the most common drug to treat opioid use disorders has been methadone, though over the past 15 years, buprenorphine, a shorter-acting opioid similar to methadone, has been increasingly used instead. For this study, the researchers looked at prescriptions for buprenorphine and Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, an anti-overdose medication. Rather than requiring a special clinic like methadone does, buprenorphine can be prescribed in a doctor’s office, making it accessible to more patients.