Maryland Replaces Suboxone Film Due to Prison Drug Smuggling

By Seth Ferranti 07/27/16

In the last seven months, over 2,000 of the small, transparent strips of Suboxone have been seized in Maryland jails and prisons.  

Maryland Replaces Suboxone Film Due to Prison Drug Smuggling

In Maryland, Medicaid officials have removed Suboxone film, an opioid addiction treatment which is placed under the tongue, from their list of preferred medications—replacing it with Zubsolv, a tablet-based treatment option. The decision was spurred by increasing instances of the drug making its way into the state’s prison system, but the change is affecting patients in the real world and their ability to stay clean.

“Partnering with the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, we are combating Suboxone smuggling in jails and prisons,” Van T. Mitchell (state Secretary of Health & Mental Hygiene) and Steve T. Moyer (state Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services), wrote in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on July 1 upon receiving steady criticism of the move by treatment providers and those currently in recovery. The change has back-room deals written all over it, as Mitchell used to work for Manis Canning & Associates, the lobbying firm that represents Orexo AB, the Swedish manufacturer of Zubsolv. But Mitchell and Moyer claim the switch will save lives.

“Smuggling has been extremely problematic,” they wrote in their op-ed. “Not only does it jeopardize prisoners' health and safety but it also jeopardizes the security of correctional staff. Suboxone Film has been the most prevalent controlled dangerous substance paraphernalia found in Maryland correctional facilities since 2014. The film is easy to smuggle: Public Safety seized 2,160 smuggled strips from January 1 to May 31, 2016, 64.9% more than the same period in 2015. Since 2010, the correctional system has seen 13 fatal overdoses.”

But making a move to stop Suboxone from getting into jails is severely affecting those in recovery out in the free world. "This is taking patients who are stable, who are doing really well, and saying we're going to do something to disturb how well you're doing," Michael Fingerhood, a primary care practitioner at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, told NPR. His program treats about 450 patients who were using Suboxone film to help their recovery. Now these ex-users are having withdrawal issues and getting sick again.

"In the midst of addiction people are searching for a high, they're having withdrawal, they're running the streets. Their lives were horrible," Fingerhood told NPR. "Having withdrawal brings back all those memories of how terrible life had been and it's a terrible feeling to be in withdrawal.”

This is another policy change by public officials that might make financial sense for those involved, but one that doesn’t take into account how those in recovery will be affected. Because at the end of the day, it's more about money than individuals actually getting off drugs and getting on with their lives.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.