Treating Heroin Addicts With Suboxone Spurs Controversy

By Brent McCluskey 12/09/14

New Jersey politicians are butting heads with the medical community over the unregulated use of Suboxone to treat heroin addicts.

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Suboxone has been used for over a decade to treat those addicted to heroin, but a continued lack of regulation over the drug has left the medical community and New Jersey policy makers in disagreement.

Suboxone, an opioid used to treat heroin addiction, was approved back in 2002. The new drug was available via prescription and quickly became an alternative to methadone. But unlike its predecessor, Suboxone use wasn’t carefully monitored, leaving doctors unsure of its risks and politicians uncertain of whether to support or oppose it. Meanwhile, some addicts found kicking Suboxone might be "next to impossible."

Methadone has long been tracked by government agencies, but there is currently no agency in charge of tracking Suboxone use in any meaningful way. This means doctors lack the information they need to determine the drug’s safety.

“It’s still very much mired in politics which are not necessarily science-based and [policymakers] are not getting enough input from the people that work in addiction on what treatment makes sense,” said Erin Zerbo, an attending psychiatrist at University Hospital.

Even still, Ellen Lovejoy, a spokeswoman for the Division of Addiction Services, says Suboxone is an “integral tool” for medication-assisted heroin treatment. New Jersey politicians, on the other hand, are starting to steer clear of supporting medication-assisted treatments, and the divide has negatively impacted heroin treatment and the treatment community in general.

“One effect of this controversy within the treatment community has been to stigmatize medication-assisted therapy, making it unavailable for those who might benefit from it,” according to a report by the Governor’s Council on Alcohol And Drug Abuse.

“As we have already noted, substance abuse treatment, like all forms of health care treatment, must be based on state-of-the-art science. It appears, however, that in many instances, the decision to forgo [medication-assisted treatment] is based on what is essentially a philosophical predilection that is maintained by some without regard to clinical studies that reveal recent advances in addictions medicine.”

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.