NY Times / Suboxone redux

English: Suboxone tablet - both sides.
English: Suboxone tablet – both sides. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I thought I was done, but here are a couple more smart takes. Both support maintenance but appreciate the article raising awareness of important problems.

 

From The Institute Blog:

 

And as the articles (and the comment section) demonstrate, the use of buprenorphine to treat addiction and prevent substance use-related harms is messy.  Interlacing text and video, the NYT pieces illustrate those complexities skillfully.  Here are three points to keep in mind as you read:

1) Medication-assisted treatment reduces overdose deaths.

2) It is necessary and good that buprenorphine treatment is investigated and reported on.

3) Drugs are double edged.

 

From RecoverySI:

 

To sum it up briefly: Some really bad research was used to convince docs that there was an ‘emergency’ need for more potent opioids to treat chronic pain, and that when used properly, these new, more potent opioids presented little or no danger that the user would become addicted.

That turned out to be BS. Surprise.

The result: We’re in a drug epidemic with no South American cartels or Afghan drug lords to vilify. And with some elements in Big Pharma, and some docs, figuring how to get rich off it.

Right– that’s the same combo that got us here.

It’s my belief that many physicians, even the uncommonly brilliant and passionate ones, can have a major blind spot when it comes to the meds they prescribe. Somehow, they convince themselves that a medication is safe if they prescribe it.

 

It’s worth pointing out that they, also, are not making recovery arguments for maintenance.

 

 

no hint of opinion here

SecondOpinion400

To me, the most important line in the NY Times Suboxone series was this one, “[Dr. Sullivan] considered opioid addiction “a hopeless disease'”.

We believe that maintenance approaches are rooted in the belief that most opiate addicts are not capable of recovering in the same manner that doctors recover.

Most of the arguments for maintenance treatments focus on reduced harm and its relative risks, very few focus on quality of life or achieving full recovery.

It’s also worth remembering that Suboxone compliance rates aren’t what they used to be.

The post below was originally published on 6/26/13. I decided to repost it to accompany the posts from the last few days.

*   *   *

From an article about a new report on medications for opiate treatment:

The report also examined studies that evaluated buprenorphine, methadone, injectable naltrexone, and oral naltrexone and concluded a benefit in patient outcomes as well as costs.

“I can say with no hint of opinion here, it’s simple fact, they are all effective,” McLellan said. “They’re effective not just in reducing opioid use, they’re effective in so many other ways that are important to societies and families.”

Effective. It’s a fact. No opinion here. Hmmm.

Effective at what? These drugs are effective at reducing opiate use. If that outcome is all one wants, they may be a good option.

The problem is that it’s a palliative response, when we know that full recovery is possible if the right resources are made available. (Of course these treatment approaches are not the ones physicians choose for themselves and their peers.)

Let’s see what the report says about another outcome that might speak more directly to quality of life, say, employment [emphasis mine]:

These studies have also measured various types of related outcomes such as reductions non-opioid drug use, employment and criminal activity. Here the literature is quite mixed and appears to be a result of the particular patient population, the clinical approach of the methadone maintenance program and the available counseling and social services provided.

and

As with methadone, the literature is quite mixed with regard to reducing non-opioid drug use, improving employment and reducing crime.

and

He also found improvements within the methadone maintenance group across various time periods on HIV risk behaviors, employment and criminal justice involvement. [My note: In this study, employment increased from approximately 21% to approximately 31%.]

So…while there’s little doubt that these medications reduce opiate use and overdose deaths, the quality of life evidence is considerably weaker.

With the increases in opiate ODs, I understand families and individuals struggling with these decisions. I struggle to come up with the best analogy for informed consent. Maybe something like this?

Maybe the choice is something like a person having incapacitating (socially, emotionally, occupationally, spiritually, etc.) and life-threatening but treatable cardiac disease. There are 2 treatments:

  1. A pill that will reduce death and symptoms, but will have marginal impact on QoL (quality of life). Relatively little is known about long term (years) compliance rates for this option, but we do know that discontinuation of the medication leads to “near universal relapse“, so getting off it is extremely difficult. The drug has some cognitive side-effects and may also have some emotional side effects. It is known to reduce risk of death, but not eliminate it.
  2. Diet and exercise can arrest all symptoms, prevent death and provide full recovery, returning the patient to a normal QoL. This is the option we use for medical professionals and they have great outcomes. Long-term compliance is the challenge and failure to comply is likely to result in relapse and may lead to death. However, we have lots of strategies and social support for making and maintaining these changes.

The catch is that you can’t do both because option 1 appears to interfere with the benefits of option 2.

Addiction Treatment With a Dark Side

money-pillsThe NY Times has a new piece on Suboxone.

First, on its blockbuster status:

Suboxone is the blockbuster drug most people have never heard of. Surpassing well-known medications like Viagra and Adderall, it generated $1.55 billion in United States 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.

But 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. Buprenorphine has become both medication and dope . . .

Next, on the dark side of the business:

Many buprenorphine doctors are addiction experts capable, they say, of treating far more than the federal limit of 100 patients. But because of that limit, an unmet demand for treatment has created a commercial opportunity for prescribers, attracting some with histories of overprescribing the very pain pills that made their patients into addicts.

A relatively high proportion of buprenorphine doctors have troubled records, a Times examination of the federal “buprenorphine physician locator” found. In West Virginia, one hub of the opioid epidemic, the doctors listed are five times as likely to have been disciplined as doctors in general; in Maine, another center, they are 14 times as likely.

Nationally, at least 1,350 of 12,780 buprenorphine doctors have been sanctioned for offenses that include excessive narcotics prescribing, insurance fraud, sexual misconduct and practicing medicine while impaired. Some have been suspended or arrested, leaving patients in the lurch.

Statistics released in the last year show sharp increases in buprenorphine seizures by law enforcement, in reports to poison centers, in emergency room visits for the nonmedical use of the drug and in pediatric hospitalizations for accidental ingestions as small as a lick.

NIMH acknowledges that antipsychotics worsen prospects for long term recovery

Mad in America
Mad in America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Insel, the Director of the National Institute on Mental Health comments on a recent study of the long term effects of antipsychotic maintenance for schizophrenics. The study looked at patients who discontinued antipsychotics compared to those who were maintained on antipsychotics.

…by seven years, the discontinuation group had achieved twice the functional recovery rate: 40.4 percent vs. only 17.6 percent among the medication maintenance group.

…antipsychotic medication, which seemed so important in the early phase of psychosis, appeared to worsen prospects for recovery over the long-term. … At least for these patients, tapering off medication early seemed to be associated with better long-term outcomes.

…It appears that what we currently call “schizophrenia” may comprise disorders with quite different trajectories. For some people, remaining on medication long-term might impede a full return to wellness.

Mad in America reports that this information has been around for years and the establishment has willfully ignored it. He adds that there’s also a better way to respond to psychosis.

The Open Dialogue therapy protocol delays the use of antipsychotics in first-episode patients, instead utilizing psychosocial support and selective use of anxiety-reducing benzodiazepines (e.g. Ativan, Klonopin,Valium) with the hope that patients can “chill out,” and get through their first crisis without ever going on antipsychotic medications. And if patients need to go on antipsychotics, the Open Dialogue protocol allows for them to subsequently try to taper from the drugs.

The results? “With this selective use of antipsychotics,” Whitaker reports, “Open Dialogue has produced the best long-term outcomes in the developed world. At the end of five years, 67% of their first-episode patients have never been exposed to antipsychotics, and only 20% are maintained regularly on the drugs. With this drug protocol, 80% of first episode patients do fairly well over the long-term without antipsychotics.”

This begs a critical question. If antipsychotics are impede the recovery of many schizophrenics, what do they do to the millions of non-psychotic adults and children that are prescribed them?

One other observation. This notion of “functional recovery rate” sounds a lot like quality of life. Interesting that this is the kind of measurement exposed this pharmacological treatment as harmful for many patients and some prominent advocates of a pharmacological treatments have dismissed quality of life as an outcome measurement.

UPDATE: This is precisely why so many of us have been so concerned about mergers between mental health and addiction treatment systems. Many of these mergers are really the mental health system taking over addiction treatment systems.

3 fold preference for talk-therapy

i_love_evidence_based_medicine_key_chains-r33ff90ead6aa425ea368e31ca9ee70e5_x7j3z_8byvr_512I swear I don’t go looking for this stuff.

This post from the British Psychological Society just popped up in my feed reader:

A line was crossed in 2005 as anti-depressant medication became the most widely prescribed class of drug in the USA. …

“It is unclear why the shift toward pharmacologic and away from psychological treatment is occurring,” the researchers said, “although limited access to evidence-based psychological treatments certainly plays some role.”

Kathryn McHugh and her colleagues identified 34 relevant peer-reviewed studies up to August 2011 involving 90,483 people, in which the participants were asked to indicate a straight preference between psychotherapy or drugs. Half the studies involved patients awaiting treatment, the others involved participants who were asked to indicate their preference if they were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. The researchers had hoped to study preferences among patients with a diverse range of diagnoses but they were restricted by the available literature – 65 per cent studies pertained to depression with the remainder mostly involving anxiety disorders.

Overall, 75 per cent of participants stated a preference for psychotherapy over drugs. Stated differently, participants were three times as likely to state that they preferred psychological treatment rather than medication. The preference for therapy remained but was slightly lower (69 per cent) when focusing just on treatment-seeking patients, and when focusing only on studies that looked at depression (70 per cent). Desire for psychotherapy was stronger in studies that involved more women or younger participants.

The author’s noted that, given the evidence showing comparable efficacy for psychotherapy and medication in treating most forms of anxiety and depression, there is strong empirical support for greater use of talk-therapy.

UPDATE: Ross shared this APA post on the cost-effectiveness of talk-therapy:

A quick fix?

The behavioral health management companies that now dominate the field have a good reason to prefer medication to psychotherapy: They don’t have to pay for patients’ pills.

Managed-care companies typically “carve out” the mental health portion of patients’ medical care, assigning that responsibility to specialized behavioral health companies. These companies, however, cover only the cost of providing patients with access to mental health providers and facilities. Responsibility for paying prescription drug costs lies with the original managed-care companies. Since behavioral health companies must squeeze psychotherapy costs out of tight budgets, says Pomerantz, it’s not surprising that they favor general practitioners over psychotherapists and psychopharmacological solutions over psychotherapeutic ones. By doing so, he explains, they shift costs back to the managed-care companies themselves.

Even more importantly, says Pomerantz, behavioral health carve-outs typically have a short-term perspective when they consider their bottom lines. While medication gets doled out over long stretches of time, psychotherapy is typically provided in short but intensive periods. Because health plans’ budgets focus on expenses in a given year, medication has an obvious short-term advantage no matter what the eventual long-term cost.

Although conditions such as schizophrenia and manic depression clearly warrant medication, he adds, behavioral health companies are pushing patients toward medication even when psychotherapy or a combination of psychotherapy and medication would be best for them.

“In a recent survey, almost 90 percent of patients who visit psychiatrists are taking psychotropic medications,” says C. Henry Engleka, assistant executive director for marketing in APA’s Practice Directorate. “Instead of medication being used as an adjunct to psychotherapy, the opposite is generally true in most managed-care practices now.”

Emerging research

That’s too bad, says Pomerantz, because over the long run psychotherapy is often more effective, and thus cheaper, for many conditions. Although psychotherapy requires more of an upfront investment, he explains, it pays off by getting the job done and preventing relapses. By contrast, patients on medication often relapse once their medication stops and may require a lifetime of expensive pills. In a column in Drug Benefit Trends, Pomerantz cites several studies from the ever-increasing literature on this topic to prove his point:

  • In a randomized, controlled trial, researchers assigned 75 outpatients with recurrent major depression to three groups: acute and maintenance treatment with antidepressants, acute and maintenance cognitive therapy and acute antidepressants followed by maintenance cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy proved as effective as medication in both the acute and maintenance phases, with a trend favoring cognitive therapy’s long-term efficacy (British Journal of Psychiatry, 1997, Vol. 171, p. 328-334).
  • In another study, researchers randomly assigned 40 patients who had been successfully treated with medication for recurrent major depression to two groups: clinical management or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Over 20 weeks, antidepressants were tapered off and then discontinued in both groups. Two years later, only 25 percent of the patients who received cognitive-behavioral therapy had relapsed compared with 80 percent of the other group [Archives of General Psychiatry, 1998, Vol. 55(9), p. 816-820].
  • In a meta-analysis of studies published between 1974 and 1994, researchers compared controlled trials of cognitive-behavioral therapy and pharmacological treatment for patients with panic disorder. While both treatments worked in the short run, the results were more positive and longer lasting for cognitive-behavioral therapy (Clinical Psychology Review,1995, Vol. 15, p. 819-844).

There are plenty of other studies with similar results, says psychologist Steven D. Hollon, PhD, of Vanderbilt University, citing the work of psychologists like David H. Barlow, PhD, on panic disorders and G. Terence Wilson, PhD, on bulimia. Hollon’s own research on depression has also found that people who receive focused psychotherapy stay better longer than people who just receive medication.

If the insurance industry would only listen to this research, says Hollon, the implications could be far-reaching.

“Just do the math,” he says, noting that pharmacotherapists may keep depressed patients on expensive antidepressants for the rest of their lives. “If you can get with four months of psychotherapy the same benefits you get from a year and a half to two years of continuous medication, you begin to break even after about a year’s time even though it’s more expensive upfront to provide psychotherapy. If the benefits extend over a half decade or decade, your savings really start piling up. But managed-care folks don’t think that way.”

how do you want your loved one to return?

Red_Drug_Pill---recoveryAnna David has an interview with Earl Hightower that really gets at the informed consent issues I’ve been talking about here.

AD: Should the parents just accept the first recommendation or should they ask for more?
EH: I think the first question they should ask should be one they ask themselves, which is how they want their son to return.

AD: What does that mean?

EH: Well, the majority of the treatment centers out there are 12-step based, which means that the goal for them is for their clients to achieve abstinence. This would be the choice to make if the parents want to get their son back in the same condition that he was in before he got on drugs: drug-free.

AD: But you can’t say for certain that a 19-year-old who was doing Oxy for nine months is definitely an addict who will need 12-step.

EH: You can’t. Maybe he was just dabbling; treatment would be able to help determine that. But maybe treatment will prove something else—maybe treatment will prove that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Maybe he’ll get in there and confess that he’s been using pot since he was 12 and maybe other conversations will turn up the fact that there’s a genetic predisposition toward addiction in the family. And if that’s the case, I believe he will need community-based support in staying clean once he returns home. It could go either way: good ongoing clinical assessment is the backbone of early treatment to determine the direction of care.

AD: But not all rehabs recommend 12-step or even full abstinence.

EH: Yes. And that’s why parents—people—need to know is that if an addict is going to a facility which subscribes to medication-assisted treatment and recovery, the goal is different. Loved ones need to know what medication-assisted treatment really means, which is that treatment will be radically re-defined and their child could be put on a medication which he would remain on for a long time, if not the rest of his life.

AD: So that’s what you mean when you talk about parents asking themselves how they want their child to return.

EH: Yes. But I can tell you from 30 years of doing this work that most parents want their child to come home drug-free—or they at least they want a shot at that. But some members of the treatment community will tell parents—or the addicts themselves—that we have to let go of this notion of abstinence and move more in the direction of medication-assisted treatment. And that means that people who could thrive without being on anything at all are leaving treatment centers on very powerful opiate replacement drugs.

Of course, Hightower has a strong bias toward abstinence-based treatment, but he’s describing a choice patients and parents never really get to make for themselves, with treatment providers of all types. As with a lot of health care decisions, there’s a problem of asymmetrical information and patients are at the mercy of whatever practitioner they land in front of.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Buprenorphine + therapy = ?

Red_Drug_Pill---recoveryIan McLoone directs us to another study (the 4th in a row) finding that buprenorphine patients receive no benefit from added behavioral treatments.

Where does this leave us?

We’ve seen criticism of the devolution of methadone maintenance (MMT) into dosing clinics with calls for a new recovery orientation to MMT and a return to methadone being one element of a comprehensive bio-psycho-social treatment program.

I’m also reminded of this quote from a methadone advocate:

All chronic diseases have a behavioral component, and that’s what you’re dealing with—a chronic disease. The problem with the methadone community is we have too many people who think methadone is a magic bullet for that disease—that recovery involves nothing more than taking methadone.

This view is reinforced by people who, with the best of intentions, proclaim, “Methadone is recovery.” Methadone is not recovery. Recovery is recovery. Methadone is a pathway, a road, a tool. Recovery is a life and a particular way of living your life. Saying that methadone is recovery let’s people think that, “Hey, you go up to the counter there, and you drink a cup of medication, and that’s it. You’re in recovery.” And of course, that’s nonsense. Too many people in the methadone field learn that opiate dependence is a brain disorder, and they think that that’s all there is to it. But just like any other chronic medical condition, it has a behavioral component that involves how you live your life and the daily decisions you make.

If opioid replacement therapy (or medication-assisted treatment) should be more than just taking medication, and the medication appears to interfere with the effectiveness of the behavioral treatments*,  where does that leave us? What is it about the drug that interferes? (Earlier this week I posted a link to a study the found blunted emotional responses in buprenorphine patients. Previous studies have found impaired cognitive function.)

Also, keep in mind that the drug use outcomes this study focused on were 3 consecutive negative drug screens, 6 consecutive negative drug screens and the average number of negative drug screens. These outcomes measures tell us something, but these are not the outcomes that addicts and their families will measure their success by. At the same time, subject satisfaction rates with buprenorphine were very high. (85%)

How can you build a recovery-oriented treatment model, when the patient is somehow rendered immune to our other tools?* Will they benefit from mutual aid? Does whatever’s going on impact quality of life?

I’ll also throw in a reminder from a previous post about were I stand on ORT:

Just to be sure that my position is understood. I’m not advocating the abolition of methadone.

Here’s something I wrote in a previous post: “All I want is a day when addicts are offered recovery oriented treatment of an adequate duration and intensity. I have no problem with drug-assisted treatment being offered. Give the client accurate information and let them choose.”

Another: “Once again, I’d welcome a day when addicts are offered recovery oriented treatment of an adequate duration and intensity and have the opportunity to choose for themselves.”

It’s also worth noting that there is a link between AA and methadone.

* See this point discussed in the comments below.