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Maintenance Drugs Making a Come Back

Maintenance Drugs Making a Come Back

Author: Justin Mckibben

For anyone who hasn’t noticed, the United States has been facing a severe issue with opiate abuse, heroin addiction and drug overdose deaths as the nation is increasingly crippled by the aftermath of a failed war on drugs. Now the system that has spent years leaning on punishment and stigma more so than support and recovery is shifting in perspective, and harm reduction and raising awareness is coming to the forefront of the fight.

But with the rise in addiction, many believe that treatment relying on maintenance drugs is the answer, and more companies are now looking to develop and market these kinds of medications. Should this be the new way we face the addiction epidemic?

The Meaning of Maintenance Drugs

Maintenance drugs are typically medications prescribed to assist people in the process of tapering off more dangerous narcotic drugs. Pertaining to opiate painkillers or heroin, there are opioid-based maintenance drugs used in order to help an addict trying to recover from their addiction to “function” in their daily lives. Some common maintenance drugs you may have heard of include:

For decades the vast majority of addicts recovering from opiate or heroin addiction have been treated with methadone, also known as Dolophine. These medications are used to try and manage the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and physical pains associated with quitting other illicit drugs, and can be used as an effective resource during the detox process.

However, these maintenance drugs have a few problems of their own.

Downside of Maintenance Drugs

Treatment based on maintenance drugs still remains controversial in the medical community, as some doctors are opposed to the medications. Many view these kinds of prescription programs as a “crutch,” and many addicts who have experienced these programs first hand would refer to it as an alternate addiction. Like painkillers, maintenance drugs can be abused.

The maintenance drug Methadone is infamous for its share of issues. One huge downside to this drug is it must be dispensed under supervision at a clinic. Also, Methadone has been criticized openly by addicts and even physicians as coming with its own set of severe withdrawal symptoms, and while it is helpful to alleviate some symptoms for addicts coming off opiates, this maintenance drug is not considered by most as practical for prolonged use.

  • Suboxone

Suboxone is the brand name for a maintenance drug developed with a combination of two drugs used to treat opiate issues:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Naloxone

Suboxone received federal approval in 2002, and since then it’s become a popular alternative to methadone. While Suboxone is more convenient because it can be taken at home, this drug still has its own list of withdrawal complaints, and because it can be taken home it also has its own risks of being abused.

Growing Market for Maintenance Drugs

As the issue of heroin and prescription opiate addiction has become a public health crisis and more people are losing their lives every day the demand for maintenance drugs and the doctors who are trained and approved to prescribe them has steadily increased.

Dr. Brent Boyett is a dentist and family doctor who also runs an addiction treatment center in the small town of Hamilton, Alabama. Boyett is one of a mere two dozen board-certified specialists practicing in the state, and according to him 40% of his patients these days are not coming in for cavities or check-ups, but are actually seeking treatment for addiction.

In recent years, Dr. Boyett has actively participated in clinical trials for new maintenance drugs such as:

  • Bunavail- transmitted through the inside of the cheek
  • Zubsolv- new drug designed to dissolve under the tongue

Physicians like Boyett believe in treating opioid addiction as a lifelong problem, but attest that the goal is to eventually wean patients off maintenance drugs.

However, Boyett also insists some patients do better with lifelong use of maintenance drugs than they can without them. Despite the risks commonly associated with addiction, Boyett sees maintenance drugs as a useful and occasionally necessary means of recovery, stating:

“Buprenorphine will no more cure for your addiction than insulin cures diabetes. What you are trading is chaos for control. You are trading an out-of-control situation for a life that has stability.”

The growing popularity for maintenance drugs makes sense though, especially considering the Obama Administrations recent announcement to expand access to Suboxone and maintenance drugs for physicians to prescribe recovering addicts.

With the white house pushing in support of medication assisted treatment programs, it only makes sense that more maintenance drugs would start to come into the fold and more doctors and pharmaceutical companies would be interested in improving this strategy of treatment.

While it is understandable that at this point we should utilize every resource we have to try and save as many lives as we can, should we be leaning on maintenance drugs as the primary focus of our recovery efforts, or should we be more focused on how to improve quality of life and holistic healing without the use of any drug at all?

Doesn’t it make more sense to consider it ‘recovery’ from drugs if you don’t depend on maintenance drugs to recover? There are so many effective holistic methods out there to create life-long change and healing for the addict, and the path to that recovery all begins with the willingness to change.

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