Taxpayers helped put a new narcotic on the streets, says the Baltimore Sun. Hexagonal orange pills some users call “bupe” are championed as an exceptional treatment for heroin and pain-pill addicts. Federal officials have spent millions of dollars to help create and promote buprenorphine, and are encouraging private doctors to prescribe it. Making buprenorphine widely available has also made it easy for patients to sell the narcotic illegally, leading to growing abuse, an investigation by the Sun found. Some people have died after misusing it with other drugs.
Heroin addicts hardened by years on city streets, and youthful buyers in suburban and rural areas, use it to get high – sometimes in dangerous combination with other substances – and to tide them over when they can’t obtain heroin or other narcotics. The drug, mainly prescribed in a form called Suboxone, is intended to be dissolved under the tongue. Some abusers crush the pills to snort or inject buprenorphine, a dangerous practice that medical experts believed could be deterred by a chemical safeguard in Suboxone. Federal officials didn’t anticipate such abuses when they joined forces with Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Richmond, Va.-based subsidiary of a British company, and spent at least $26 million to bring Suboxone to market. With congressional approval, officials began rolling it out in 2003 in a bold experiment to steer addiction treatment from restrictive clinics to doctors’ offices.