Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that the evidence for Suboxone has been oversold and that it often does not address the real-world goals of most addicts or families. They want recovery–a restoration to wholeness and full participation in all spheres of life over the rest of their lifespan. The evidence base for maintenance drugs tends to focus on short term outcomes and on reductions in overdose, disease transmission and criminal justice involvement.
That said, I’ve made it plain that I’m not interested in taking options away from patients, especially well-informed patients.
It’s got maintenance treatment and harm reduction advocates whoop-whoop-ing. It’s got abstinence-based recovery advocates concerned.
The article begs a lot of questions. For example,
- If “doctors and scientists view [these drugs] as the most effective care for opioid addicts”, why aren’t more doctors willing to prescribe it? And, why don’t they use these drugs with their addicted colleagues?
- Why do the authors fail to acknowledge the longer term studies that find poor retention of patients on Suboxone? (Here, here, here, here and here.)
- How did these “medications, when combined with other behavioral supports” become “the standard of care for the treatment of opiate addiction” when studies have found that people on maintenance medications do not benefit from additional behavioral therapy? (Here, here, here and here.)
However, as a policy matter, given the context within the field, this move makes sense.
Drug courts have sought more than reduced criminal activity. They’ve looked for the same kind of transformational recovery that families often seek. Maybe it’s appropriate for the feds to take these steps. I don’t have any strong feelings about it.
However, this is going to be a very good opportunity to learn a lot about the effectiveness of Suboxone over 12 to 24 months.
- What will happen when you prescribe it to patients who are in a system that provides long term and robust recovery monitoring with enforced abstinence from illicit drugs and participation in behavioral treatment/support?
- Will patients want to stay on the drug?
- If not, will courts treat the decision to discontinue maintenance as non-compliance with treatment?
- How will improvements in quality of life measures for these participants compare to other participants?
- Will they experience the same benefits from the behavioral interventions that other participants do?