The addiction treatment drug buprenorphine will come under closer scrutiny in a new federal initiative to track the deaths of opiate addicts taking it or methadone, the Baltimore Sun reports. U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration officials hope the new tracking system will significantly improve the safety and quality of drug treatment for more than 400,000 addicts across the country. The Sun reported last month that while buprenorphine can be a highly effective addiction medicine, misuse of the drug is on the rise. Some people have died when taking it with other drugs. The number of deaths is unknown, because medical examiners in most states don’t test for buprenorphine in overdose deaths.
Drug treatment programs will be asked by federal officials to report information about deaths. Health officials stress that both methadone and buprenorphine are safe when taken properly and help ease cravings addicts feel for opiates. Using illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine poses far greater dangers of death or injury, they say. Methadone has been the nation’s mainstay addiction therapy since the 1970s. It is dispensed by about 1,100 clinics to 250,000 people. To stem abuses, methadone clinics initially require addicts to appear daily for their doses. About 60 percent of the methadone clinics also use buprenorphine for some patients.