This Fall in Drugs: Higher-Dose Suboxone Films
A major pharma company is rolling out new opioid-blocking films that will melt in your mouth.
Drug manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser has announced plans to bring to market this fall new, higher-dose versions (4mg and 12mg) of its Suboxone films—kind of like those dissolvable Listerine breath-freshener strips. Suboxone, a formulation of opioid-blocking buprenorphine that's used in short-term detox and longer-term medication-assisted therapy (MAT), was originally marketed in the US as 2mg and 8mg under-the-tongue tablets, which melt in the mouth, delivering meds through mucus membranes. "The films work similarly, except they adhere to the tongue," Tim Baxter, MD, Reckitt’s global medical director, tells The Fix. Reckitt's patent for the tablets expired in 2009, but the following year they rolled out individually wrapped, difficult-to-open 2mg and 8mg films. Since then, Baxter says, the company has had just four reports of deaths due to accidental ingestion by children. “The film is a child-resistant single dose,” he says. “Should it be opened, there’s only one film in there—there’s not 30 or 40. And it’s very hard to get into—I have to use a pair of scissors to get into the thing.”
The tablets and films are high-dose versions of Reckitt’s European buprenorphine preparation Temgesic, which comes in doses of a fraction of a milligram and which Continental types use as a painkiller. EU addicts commonly use Temgesic to gradually taper off of Suboxone, just as American addicts often cut up the films to provide themselves with tiny tapering-off doses. Reckitt does not endorse chopping up the films, Baxter says, and the company has no plans to come out with a Temgesic equivalent in the States. “We don’t promote detox,” he says. “We try to educate prescribers and payors that opioid dependence is a chronic disease and should be treated as such.” At present, the company is not offering a release date, profit projections or earnings figures for the films—but in 2010 The Guardian reported that Reckitt saw its pharma earnings increase by more than sixfold between 2004 and 2009, largely thanks to US sales of Suboxone.