Federal Bupe Law Cheered

A federal law that was enacted in 2005 has resulted in greater access to a medication that helps individuals who are struggling to overcome an addiction to opioids.

Buprenorphine (commonly referred to as “bupe”), which is marketed under the trade names Subutex® and Suboxone®, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002. According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA), the drug impedes the desire for other opioids in the following manner:

Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. This means that, although buprenorphine is an opioid, and thus can produce typical opioid agonist effects and side effects such as euphoria and respiratory depression, its maximal effects are less than those of full agonists like heroin and methadone.

At low doses buprenorphine produces sufficient agonist effect to enable opioid-addicted individuals to discontinue the misuse of opioids without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. …

Studies have shown that buprenorphine is more effective than placebo and is equally as effective as moderate doses of methadone and LAAM in opioid maintenance therapy. Buprenorphine is unlikely to be as effective as more optimal-dose methadone, and therefore may not be the treatment of choice for patients with higher levels of physical dependence.

For the first three years that bupe was allowed to be prescribed its use was limited to no more than 30 patients per group medical practice. In 2005, after studies revealed that the medical use of buprenorphine was not resulting in greater illicit distribution or use of the substance, the law was changed to eliminate the 30-patient cap.

The drug, which is taken orally in pill form, has received considerable acclaim from some recovering addicts. Among the drug’s benefits are that doctors can prescribe a 30-day supply to patients, which frees them from having to make the daily clinic appearances that individuals who are on methadone programs must do.

"I've been a [heroin] user for 20 years, and it's the only thing that's helped," Elizabeth Fabiano, a recovering heroin addict, told the website Join Together after the law change was announced in 2005.. "I don't know what it does to you, but you don't even think of [heroin] when you're on it. I've been on a waiting list since May. I can't wait to take it."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction to heroin or any other drug, know that effective treatment may be as close as a phone call away. To speak to a counselor who can help you find a program that meets your specific needs, call 866-323-5608.