Suboxone is the blockbuster drug most people have never heard of, says the New York Times. It generated $1.55 billion in U.S. sales last year, its success fueled by an exploding opioid abuse epidemic and the embrace of federal officials who helped finance its development and promoted it as a safer, less stigmatized alternative to methadone. More than a decade after Suboxone went on the market, and with the Affordable Care Act poised to bring many more addicts into treatment, the high hopes have been tempered by a messy reality, says the Times.
Suboxone’s parent drug buprenorphine has become both medication and dope: a treatment with successes and failures as well as a street and prison drug. It has attracted unscrupulous doctors and caused more health problems and deaths than its advocates acknowledge. It has become a lucrative commodity, creating moneymaking opportunities for manufacturers, doctors, drug dealers and even patients that have undermined an innovation meant for social good. Intended as a long-term treatment for people addicted to opioids — heroin as well as painkillers — buprenorphine is an opioid itself that can produce euphoria and cause dependency.