Suboxone, considered by many to be the newest weapon in the arsenal against opiate addiction, has actually been used for some time in the United States and Europe to help addicts curb their cravings and stave off the acute withdrawal symptoms associated with narcotic abuse. It is now being offered to patients at methadone clinics as an alternative to methadone, for those who qualify.
What is suboxone?
Suboxone is an opioid which is used to treat addiction to other opioids, including oxycontin, heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone and other opiates. No matter how the addict has been using their narcotic of choice – injecting, smoking, snorting or swallowing – suboxone can help, although it’s not useful in treating addiction of other drugs like crack, alcohol, benzodiazepines and other substances. Suboxone is not considered a ‘cure’ or an end result in itself; its best results are seen when combined with other treatment protocols, like cognitive therapy, family counselling, aftercare rehabilitation, and community supports. Along with these supports, suboxone therapy can help addicts avoid medical problems, overdose, and legal issues so they can get on with their healing and resume healthy, productive lives in society.
Where to obtain suboxone
Suboxone is available by prescription only. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has certain guidelines for which doctors can prescribe suboxone; they recommend that the doctor have experience in treating opiate addiction and take specific training courses in administering suboxone. In most cases, these doctors are methadone prescribers already, who can offer patients a choice between methadone therapy and suboxone therapy. That is why methadone clinics in Ontario increasingly offer suboxone treatment as an alternative.
Suboxone therapy for patients with opiate addiction
Suboxone should be taken as part of a therapy protocol not only because it is more effective that way, but because only a trained physician should administer suboxone. There is a risk that the drug will bring on a rapid onset of intense withdrawal symptoms (precipitated withdrawal) in patients who still have some level of opiates in their bodies. A physician should first verify that their patient is in a partial withdrawal state before slowly introducing suboxone into the body. The patient should be reassessed and the dosage adjusted frequently in the early days of beginning suboxone therapy.
While suboxone is taken sublingually as opposed to swallowed like methadone (the suboxone tablet is placed under the tongue to dissolve), initially patients must go to the pharmacy to receive their daily dose, much like with the methadone program. However, as they progress through treatment, most patients are able to have ‘carries’ (doses they take home and take on their own as directed) and can attend their doctor or addiction clinic less often. The goal is independence, as the client tapers off their dose. This is good news for patients struggling with addiction whose end goal is abstinence from illicit drug use and re-integration to stable, happy lives in the community.