New York Times Panics Over Un-Risky Drug Buprenorphine

The New  York Times on Sunday did one of its usual bits of fearmongering over the fact that someone, somewhere might use a useful drug in a way they and authorities disapprove of or which might even be dangerous to a few people.

This very, very, very long story was about buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, and unlike methadone actually available by prescription in the form of "suboxone," where it is mixed with naloxone, an opiate-cancelling drug. (You know, so no one would enjoy it.)

While occasionally acknowledging its lifesaving properties, the piece can't help but make it seem more important that someone somewhere is using it in unapproved ways, or harming themselves with it, with its long, long narratives of people unhappy with their choice to take too much of it, or people committing armed robbery to get it, or doctors who sell it to people who aren't "supposed" to have it, or allowing the drug to slip from the state's control when the permitted choose to sell it to the unpermitted.

But, way, way toward the end of this stunningly long story you find:

Most buprenorphine advocates interviewed said they believed that deaths were extremely rare. But Suboxone and Subutex [a version lacking naloxone] were considered the “primary suspect” in 690 deaths — 420 in the United States — reported to the F.D.A. from spring 2003 through September.....

The F.D.A. information, which is spare, does show that more than half the American buprenorphine deaths involved other substances and that only two of 224 cases specifying “route of administration” indicated injection — the primary concern of regulators.

Fifty deaths are listed as suicides, and 69 involve unintentional overdoses, drug abuse or drug misuse. Thirty were fetal or infant deaths after exposure in the womb....

The F.D.A. cautions against assuming that a “primary suspect” drug was indeed a cause of death.

What does that mean, comparatively? According to U.S. DEA data:

IMS HealthTM National Prescription Audit Plus indicates that 9.3 million buprenorphine prescriptions were dispensed in the U.S. in 2012. From January to March 2013, 2.5 million buprenorphine prescriptions were dispensed. 

And that's just in the past couple of years, those over 10 million licit uses for people who think (or whose doctors think) it might be useful for them, compared to those 420 deaths over about the past decade for which the drug might maybe have been responsible.

Occasional Reason contributor Maia Szalavitz at the Huffington Post took on the Baltimore Sun for trying to do the same five years ago:

Using story after story of street abuse and sales, it presents a bleak picture of a drug that has actually done exactly what it is supposed to do when it is provided medically: reduce harm related to opioid misuse.

The Sun
 seems to see such harm reduction as failure: To the reporters, the existence of any level of misuse is cause for concern, and perhaps, increased regulation. It doesn't much matter whether buprenorphine saves lives, reduces infections and increases functioning - all that counts are that some addicts are still injecting and getting high and some prescriptions are still being sold.

Former Reason man Mike Riggs at the Atlantic has some data on how many opioid-related drug overdose deaths are happening while the FDA dither over making the lifesaving anti-opioid drug naloxone (a part of suboxone, recall) available over the counter:

More than 300,000 people died from drug poisoning in the U.S. between 1999 and 2009. That first year, opioid analgesics—drugs like methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone—were responsible for 21 percent of drug poisoning deaths. By 2009, that number had increased to 42 percent, or 15,597 dead, making prescription painkillers the leading cause of drug-poisoning deaths...

.....over the decade-long period covered in the study, the number of counties that had more than 10 drug-poisoning deaths per 100,000 residents increased from 3 percent to 54 percent, and the drug-poisoning death rate increased 394 percent in rural counties and 279 percent for large central metropolitan counties. The study authors say 90 percent of those deaths were related to prescription drugs, opioids in particular. 

Reason on naloxone.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If a drug - any drug - can help people, what the eff do you care if or why others use it?

  • Ted S.||

    Some people are perverts who get their rocks off denying other people their pleasure.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What if we created a drug that would get one's rocks off synthetically?

  • SugarFree||

  • playa manhattan||

    Hmmm, my YouTube ad for that link was a Chili's commercial in spanish.

  • SugarFree||

    Es muy bueno.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    My ad was for a new HBO show about gay people. WHAT IS YOUTUBE IMPLYING ABOUT ME?

  • ||

    One day I would like to be able to understand why thumb-suckers like this article's author feel the way they do. Seriously. I mean, I get it in theory; they want to control people, or they hate that someone, somewhere, might be enjoying themselves. But I don't understand it, because it's so alien to me.

  • Hyperion||

    But I don't understand it, because it's so alien to me.

    This is why there can never be any cooperation with them, ever. Their way of thinking and their intentions(I'm talking about all of the control freaks, including foremost, the progresssives) are antithetical to everything that libertarians believe in. There is no bridging that gap, we simply cannot coexists in peace with these assholes. We either get them out of control of the country, split off from them at some point(state secesion?), or just accept having our lived ruined by their dystopian fantasies.

  • sarcasmic||

    "In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit."

    -Ayn Rand

  • Robert||

    She was wrong.

  • Ted S.||

    As I said to Fisty, it's their kink. Just like you're into bukkake or Warty or something, they're into denying other people's pleasures.

  • SugarFree||

    Warty can perform bukkake all by himself.

  • Invisible Finger||

    It used to be that people like that identified themselves with organized religions or cults and pretty much advertised their associations.

    Now they hide their kinks behind (formerly) respectable occupations. I mean, you can be fairly sure that the cult these authors belong to is the Democratic Party, but it's not like they openly point that out in the bylines.

  • tarran||

    I think they fear surrendering to their appetites.

    They're clutching their icons from the Temple of Robotology, trembling with the knowledge that the Hookerbot 5000 is lying out there, waiting, her cold metallic arms ready to enfold them and transport them into a life mindless, animal-existence. They can hear her crooning "Hey, Sailor Unit" and tremble.

  • sarcasmic||

    The way those statistics work, if someone died and they had the drug in their system or in their possession, then as far as the government is concerned it was the drug's fault.

    They could have been killed by someone running a red light or in a drive by shooting, and the government will blame the drug.

  • sarcasmic||

    John pron!
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/fem.....ze-26.html

    'At 117lbs I was too fat': Rejected model on gaining weight and finally making it onto the catwalk as a 'super plus-size' 26
  • DJF||

    Mommy, make the scary ladies go away!

  • Hyperion||

    300 lbs., that's overdoing it just a little... At 5'8", she would probably look pretty good around 160.

  • RBS||

    Keeping toned: While she refuses to obsess over dieting, D'Amour enjoys to swim regularly

    Um, I'm pretty sure she's just floating.

  • DJF||

    We need a study to determine how many people have died because someone followed NYT approved policies.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...drugs like methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone—were responsible for 21 percent of drug poisoning deaths.

    Sorry if I'm a broken record on this, but I wonder how many of those were actually deaths related to acetaminophen.

  • Brett L||

    Riggs is a cosmotarian now, too? He'll always be reason's Floridaman to me.

  • Hyperion||

    I was reading a story a while back about a guy who supposedly has invented something as an alcohol substitute that produces the exact same buzz, but without the hangover and all the other undesirable effects of alcohol on the body.

    I immediately envisioned an epidemic of nanny butthurt.

  • NoVAHockey||

    see cigarettes, electronic

  • ||

    The liquor lobby has probably already had that guy whacked.

  • Hyperion||

    If I recall correctly, he's a limey.

  • playa manhattan||

    Is it delicious?

  • Hyperion||

    Depends on if you can remove the alcohol from what you like, and mix in this stuff, without ruining da flava.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Less talk, more synthahol!

  • BakedPenguin||

    Wow. amazing times we live in, guys.

    This would be a game changer foe me and my liver.

  • ||

    Does it still damage the liver in large quantities? Because alcohol impairment and passing out is your body's way of protecting you from yourself.

  • Hyperion||

    After we study it for 20 years and get FDA approval, we can find out. In the meantime, if you're an incurable alcoholic and this may save your life, just die, because FYTW.

  • Hyperion||

    So, I was right, he is a limey. Well, I'm all for this new concoction.

    But we all know the holdups on getting this available here in the USA, and they are many. FDA, wildly hysterical scaremonger articles by the MSN, and assorted nannies, to just name a few...

  • Brett L||

    If he would just post the syntheses...

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