Last week, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that the cap on buprenorphine patients will be raised above the current limit of 100 patients per doctor. This move, should it actually occur, will potentially save tens of thousands of young lives per year, given that over 30,000 people die from narcotic overdose each year. But instead of cheering the good news, some doctors used the occasion to rant about diversion. Those doctors get on my nerves, and I’ll explain why.
Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, prevents opioid withdrawal in heroin addicts while at the same time blocking the effects of heroin and narcotic pain medications. Many heroin addicts keep a dose or two of buprenorphine handy for times when the heroin supply, or money to buy heroin, runs low. Other opioid addicts use buprenorphine in attempts to detox off opioid agonists. Their efforts almost always fail, as freeing one’s self from addiction is much more complicated than getting through withdrawal. But the statistics don’t keep addicts from trying, over and over again. After all, the belief in personal power over substances is part of the addictive mindset.