The Suboxone Fix

Heroin deaths up


Death rates from heroin overdoses have nearly quadrupled since 2000, according to a March report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency found that overdose deaths in the population had reached 2.7 per 100,000 in 2013.

Yet the federal government tightly controls access to one of the most powerful tools for fighting heroin addiction. The drug Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) has quickly become more popular than the better-known option, methadone, which works by mimicking a weaker version of the euphoria of heroin. Suboxone contains a partial opiate agonist, which attaches to the opiate receptors in the brain, minimizing cravings without causing a high. It also includes an opiate blocker, which temporarily stops drugs like heroin and morphine from taking effect. Patients prefer Suboxone because it makes the early days of withdrawal easier and because it can be obtained by prescription and consumed at home rather than requiring a daily visit to a clinic.

But getting (and renewing) that prescription can be tricky. Doctors who wish to prescribe the drug must get special licensing and training from the Drug Enforcement Administration and are limited to 100 Suboxone patients at a time, up from an initial limit of 30. There is evidence of an extensive black market for Suboxone on the streets, but it's not because of a potential for abuse. Instead, drug users seem to be buying it primarily for do-it-yourself detox.