Evidence-based Addiction Medication

November 15, 2016

John is 22 and addicted to heroin.  He has been to three rehabs, each lasting nearly a month.  He is bright, motivated and has a supportive family.  His rehab counselors assist him with achieving sobriety.  Sadly, each time John leaves rehab, he immediately returns to heroin.  He has lost hope; his family has lost hope.  Is there another way to support John?  Is there a pill, or drug, that could make a difference?

It may seem odd to suggest a drug to fight a drug addiction.  It may seem even more absurd if that drug has similarities to heroin.  Such is the case of buprenorphine (commonly known as Suboxone).  It is an anti-addiction medication that has gained greater acceptance for the treatment of opiate addiction (i.e. heroin, OxyContin, or pain medications).  

For individuals and families it is difficult to get past the medication’s most basic concerns:

“Can’t someone get addicted to buprenorphine?”  It is possible.  

“Wouldn’t it be better to consider a drug free approach to addiction recovery then rely on a pill?”  It may.  

“Isn’t buprenorphine sold on the streets and can't it support a person’s drug addiction?” It can.

“Doesn’t the entire idea of addiction recovery rest on the principle of individual responsibility and individual commitment?”  It does.

“Isn’t there another medication, Vivitrol, which may be a non-addictive alternative to buprenorphine?”  It is true.

At first glance, the idea of using buprenorphine to treat opiate addiction sounds like a bad idea.  And yet, there is a growing movement within the addiction recovery field to see the medication as advantageous.  Many physicians and clinicians recognize buprenorphine as an important tool in the fight against opiate addiction.  For some, buprenorphine is a difference-maker.

John and his family decided to try buprenorphine.  Immediately, John’s cravings subsided.  He knew, however, that his recovery was still far from complete.  John attended a day treatment program to learn the cognitive and behavioral skills to support long-term recovery.  John also became committed to 12 step recovery groups and even got a sponsor.   His family remained active in his recovery, including random home based drug testing and dispensing his medication.  John got a job!  After years of living the addictive lifestyle, John began to build a new life.  John remained on buprenorphine.  Each month, he met with his doctor and discussed the timing and method to tapering off of the medication.

Buprenorphine, when used in the right way, at the right time, and in the right context of treatment, can make a meaningful difference.  If you or your loved one is trapped by opiate addiction know that buprenorphine, combined with intensive outpatient treatment, is a legitimate and evidenced-based approach.  Buprenorphine can be an important bridge to recovery.


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