Drug Abuse

New Approach to Fight Painkiller Addiction

Prescription drug abuse has become a serious public health issue in the United States, adding to the nation's woes involving illicit drugs and alcohol. According to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Addiction (CDC), more than 183,000 succumbed to accidental overdoses related to prescription opioids.

Most people start taking drugs voluntarily. Gradually, the drug rewires the brain, resulting in addiction, major physical and mental issues and sometimes even causes death. However, when it comes to taking the path of recovery, only a few people come forward to undergo diagnosis and subsequent treatment. One of the key reasons for the reluctance of patients to opt for a treatment program is the pain and discomfort experienced during the detoxification process.

Getting into a good treatment program is a challenging task as most of the facilities are already overcrowded with patients, which diminishes the chances of newer admissions. Waiting for their turn for weeks and months, many ill-fated patients lose their lives to overdosing or to life-threatening diseases like HIV or hepatitis, owing to illicit drug use.

To prevent the issue of illicit drug use in patients yet to enroll in a treatment program, scientists at the University of Vermont discovered a device that enabled the patients to use a drug at home. The tamper-resistant electronic pill dispenser facilitated home use of Suboxone, a combination drug buprenorphine and naloxone, which attaches to the same brain receptors like other opioids, such as OxyContin, heroin and Vicodin. Buprenorphine eases withdrawal symptoms and prevents a "high" in case the patient is addicted to any such opioid.

Buprenorphine can help patients get free of opioids

Buprenorphine is an opioid itself, so it carries a high risk of developing an addiction. But this is not the case due to the drug's different chemical composition, lowering its potential for abuse. Therefore, people waiting for their turn at prescription drug rehab centers can use it to curb their cravings until they get a chance to receive proper treatment. However, the devise was deliberately designed to make available each day's dose only in a three-hour period, which not only prevented the over use of the drug, but also made it mandatory for the user to visit the researchers regularly.

In the small study published in New England Journal of Medicine, 88 percent of the 25 participants given the instrument were reportedly free of illicit opioids at four weeks. At eight weeks, the recovery was 84 percent and at 12 weeks, it was 68 percent. Interestingly, the remaining 25 who got no anti-addiction care reported no improvements in their addictive behavior.

Since its development, buprenorphine has been used as a safer alternative to methadone for treating addiction to heroin and painkillers. However, owing to its high potential for abuse, it is strictly given under medical supervision.

" Buprenorphine will maintain some of a patient's existing physical dependence to opioids but that is manageable and can be resolved with a gradual taper once the patient is ready ," said the researchers.

Road to recovery

The fact that physicians continue to prescribe opioids to their patients complaining of pain has made it difficult for health care providers and those at the federal level to combat the scourge of opioid abuse. In the wake of rising prescription drug abuse, it has become important to keep a check on the sale, purchase and use of prescribed drugs.

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