A year and a half ago, a scientific advance gave 60,000 Americans a chance to break their dependence on drugs without shame, says the New York Times. Buprenorphine, made by Reckitt Benckiser and sold under the brand name Suboxone, became the first prescription medication for people addicted to heroin or painkillers. The small orange tablet is available by prescription at any neighborhood pharmacy. Unlike methadone, buprenorphine (pronounced byoo-pre-NOR-feen) is only weakly addictive and thus less tightly regulated. Above a certain dosage, more will not produce a high, so it has a far lower risk of overdose than methadone. Once a patient has taken a pill, the effects last for about three days, greatly decreasing the chance of a relapse.
Serious drug addiction, a problem that afflicts more than 10 million Americans, is notoriously stubborn, and relapse rates are staggering. Rehabilitation programs have only limited success. Dropout rates are high, and even many addicts who do stay in rehab slide back into using drugs periodically. Buprenorphine is the first of a new generation of prescription drugs that is changing the landscape of addiction treatment, providing new hope and moving addiction from clinics and rehab centers into doctor’s offices. “There has been a revolution in the way we view addiction,” said Dr. Charles A. Dackis, chief of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center-Presbyterian. “It’s being seen now as a disease of the reward centers of the brain, much like pneumonia is seen as a disease of the lungs.”