Written by: Anthony Anders, ADC, LCDC-III - Chemical Dependency Counselor
The short answer is “no.” It is giving medicine to drug addicts. I wish I could stop here, but since this assumption is rather rampant and withholding this information or access to these medications is costing people their lives and increasing family suffering, I felt compelled to elaborate.
Buprenorphine (e.g. Suboxone, Zubsolv, Bunavail, etc.) are very effective tools in helping someone deal with opioid addiction and dependency. It can be a controversial therapy to use a medication that contains some of the components of the crisis it addresses. For the sake of staying on track, you can research the DATA Act of 2000 and the resulting literature for more on how approving this therapy surfaced to mainstream.
Here is the deal; opiates are a viable treatment for certain types of pain in certain types of individuals. I am not a doctor and will leave more in-depth arguments for their use to the trained physicians, but they are indeed useful in some situations. However, if not properly obtained, prescribed, managed, and secured, bad things can happen. Very bad. (The same with other medications and substances.)
Buprenorphine acts upon the receptors affected by opiates by reducing the incessant internal screaming and agonizing gnawing that an addict feels as a call to feed an ever-growing insatiable hunger. (Writing that last sentence has now prompted me to write an essay about what withdrawal feels like – but that will take a minute to attempt to create.) Back to the topic at hand. Buprenorphine helps reduce the withdrawal symptoms the addict feels that allows for a reprieve from the physiological and psychological/emotional distress that prompts the observable behaviors noted in the diagnosis. In short, the medicine allows for people to begin working on their “come-back.” The medication is not the salvation – the un-impaired efforts and repairing cognition of the addict in recovery over time is where the results lie.
That being said, this is why accountability, counseling, measurable strategies, multi-modal approaches to care, individualized plans, and a journey free of stigma and misinformation are paramount to a person’s success. Without these, results are pale at best.
I liken giving a patient Buprenorphine without counseling and the above supports similar to giving a person suffering from diabetes insulin without ongoing medical monitoring, dietary coaching, speaking to them about changing their diet and thoughts about food, how to cope when dining socially, how to deal with cravings, and adding other supports to leverage their successes over time. It is criminal and a shame in both cases.
You see, we often blame a medication for the poor observed results of some, or we are not holding people and facilities accountable for offering the whole package that is so desperately needed to see progress.
Buprenorphine, like other certain medication are indeed a “crutch.” But, if you broke your foot, you would need crutches for the early convalescence needed to heal or to embark on a new phase of recovering. Then you may go to a single crutch, a boot, then physical therapy, walking, and then eventually you run again. If you remain on the crutch after the foot heals or too long in a certain phase, you impede progress, impose fear, and the “foot” atrophies worse than before the break. Same principle applies to buprenorphine therapy. This is again why objective measurable therapies from layers of trained people are needed. Buprenorphine, again, is only a tool. A necessary tool for some in dealing with the opioid crisis.
As treatment providers, we need as many options as we can get at our disposal since this disease is so multi-faceted and complicated. It helps us by having medications, facilities, 12-step support groups, and other therapies and organizations that we can choose from as there is no one-size-fits-all program. If one thing falls short, we have options. We need to engage people in an ongoing continuum of care that is flexible to meet the needs of every individual we see. Buprenorphine is the not the problem people think, yet, not addressing certain harmful behaviors listed above and needs not being met by qualified professionals are where people’s concerns should lie.
Help us put stigma and misinformation to rest as we work on helping other’s achieve their ultimate comeback.
Your shares, likes, and comments are appreciated!