As the scientists at the Yale School of Medicine are claiming, buprenorphine – commonly available as Suboxone – when used in their clinical trials, has made the patients more likely to continue the addiction treatment for at least a month, if not more. It's a fairly newer drug therapy and has shown results that are far more promising than the traditional, cost-effective treatment, methadone.
Tough Times For The Patients
Withdrawal symptoms that show up in patients when they stop their dose of heroin or other opioids is a quite painful process to go through. Often times, this is what leads them to the hospital in search of sufficient healthcare. It's common for addicts to experience hot and cold sweats, vomiting sensation, nausea, and diarrhea. It’s almost similar to a severe case of the flu which requires immediate medical attention, however, there’s not much an ER doctor can possibly do about it.
More often than not, patients are prescribed with anti-nausea medications and anti-anxiety pills, which work only on the surface to help with the worst of these symptoms for a short while, but wouldn't have any effect on the addiction.
A New Ray Of Hope
At the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, things are changing for good. The hospital started a trial program for opiate addiction treatment this summer. The program is being led by Dr. Darin Neven and a medical student at the University of Washington, Ariana Kamaliazad. In their clinical trials, they give patients buprenorphine in order to stabilize them initially, before suggesting them a medication-assisted regular drug treatment.
Though it’s a good approach to handle the opioid epidemic spreading in the nation, its use is still uncommon in most hospitals across the country. According to Neven, he knows of only one other hospital in Washington that's following a similar approach for its patients.
Provides Treatment Just When The Patients Need It The Most
It's common for patients who are seeking treatment at the health district or other similar clinics to find several months long waiting lists. They have to wait for a slot become available, and there's a high likelihood of them overdosing on heroin or even end up with a high-risk heart infection if they accidentally use a dirty needle in the meanwhile.
“You have to offer treatment to the addicts when they are ready on their own, and that time often doesn’t coincide with setting up an appointment and then going to that appointment after a week or two as often seen,” he added. “If a person loses the window of opportunity to get properly stabilized, it's possible they might even die from their addiction.”
How Regulated Is This Treatment?
Though the Federal law requires the doctors to obtain a special license to be able to prescribe buprenorphine to their patients, but there's an exemption for the physicians who are using this drug to treat severe withdrawal symptoms and then referring the patients for an ongoing treatment too.
Neven decided to take advantage of this exception, but due to financial constraints, they were able to refer only two patients per day and there were times when had to turn a few patients away.
Cost Of The Drug Is Hindering Its Wide Adoption
An entire month’s supply (for a single patient) of the generic drug buprenorphine would cost $240, which is much cheaper than the cost of $500 which is what the brand-name Suboxone is sold for, as highlighted by Julie Albright, Director of the Opioid Treatment Program. Even though some patients at the health district are able to support for their own treatment, either through private insurance or out-of-pocket, the majority of them are Medicaid patients. The treatment of this kind of patients is funded through a special contract with the Behavioral Health Organization (BHO) in Spokane County, which relies on the state government for funds.