In May of this year, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Buprenorphine (Suboxone) implants for the maintenance treatment of opiate addicts, and I’m terrified.

The implant is supposed to eliminate the potential for losing, forgetting or having the pill stolen, according to a press release by the FDA. I also believe that these implants will hopefully deter recipients from re-selling their Suboxone.

However, an implant will not prevent certain patients from using other substances on top of the Suboxone and this is where we are seeing problems. According to drugs.com, when using Suboxone with medications that suppress the nervous system, side effects can include respiratory distress, coma, or even death.

According to the FDA press release, the implants will consist of four, one-inch long rods that are implanted under the skin on the inside of a patient’s upper arm. These implants would provide Suboxone treatment for six months.

Although I can appreciate the benefits of taking away the hassle of daily pill-taking, implanting Suboxone into a patient is not fixing the Suboxone problem.

According to an article in Addiction Professional by Steven R. Scanlan MD, using Suboxone for longer than 20-25 days can initiate a strong dependence on the medication. Which could be problematic with the medication estimated to be 25-40 times more potent than morphine.  The article also stated that although Suboxone may help make the physical symptoms of addiction manageable, it actually does not address the emotional and spiritual aspects of the disease.

“Suboxone is a powerful opiate-an anesthetic to emotional pain. It immediately alleviates anxiety and depression, and makes a person feel more emotionally stable. A lesser dose of Suboxone (2 mg a day) will block an estimated 80 percent of a person’s feelings, while higher doses can make a patient practically numb,” Scanlan said in this article.

So my question is, how do we expect to treat patients suffering from addiction, when our patient is not able to access their emotions?

In my opinion, this practice is eerily similar to the use of neuroleptic-induced frontal lobotomies to control difficult patients in the early days of mental health treatment.

Implanting a six-month dose of Suboxone into patients to continually keep them numb is horrifying to me. Prescribing an addict this “mind-numbing” medication is essentially telling them their emotions are too much or too painful. These emotions may be a lot to handle and potentially painful, but that is why we have therapists and counselors working with addicts to process these emotions.

So what is more important treatment providers? Processing and working through an addicts painful emotions? Or blocking them completely?

2 thoughts on “Buprenorphine, the new neuroleptic

  1. The emotional numbing is a problem but lets not forget the issue of continuing to keep the person depentdent on a substance rather than working at removing dependence on a substance.

  2. You are so right on several points. I have been on suboxone since 2009. Yes, I said 2009. However, here is what I was told. I became dependent on opiates for pain to the point taking 20 – 30 vicoprofen did nothing. So I went it to hospital and detoxes and put on sub immesiately. Now, I am dependent on suboxone. I feel I switched from one drug dependence to another. Although, with suboxone, I have never had to increase my dose over all those years for pain. But dear Lord, run out of it and you are in for a whole lot of hurting. Love to hear your thoughts on this.

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