A year and a half ago, a quiet scientific advance gave some 60,000 Americans a chance to break their dependence on drugs without the shame of rehab. It is buprenorphine, made by Reckitt Benckiser and sold under the brand name Suboxone, which became the first prescription medication for people addicted to heroin or painkillers, reports the New York Times. The small orange tablet is available by prescription at any pharmacy. It relieves symptoms of opiate withdrawal like agitation, nausea and insomnia.
But unlike methadone, buprenorphine is only weakly addictive. The effects of a single pill last for about three days, decreasing the chance of a relapse. Serious drug addiction is a problem that afflicts more than 10 million Americans. The grip of hard-core drugs like heroin and cocaine is notoriously stubborn, and relapse rates are staggering. Rehabilitation programs have only limited success. Buprenorphine is the first of a new generation of prescription drugs that is changing the landscape of addiction treatment, moving addiction treatment from clinics and rehab centers, long seen as magnets for junkies, pushers and gloom, into the doctor’s office.