Definitely not a silver bullet

e1drugThe Christian Science Monitor recently published an article about the growing misuse of buprenorphine.

Police reports of bupe-related seizures increased nationwide from 90 reports in 2003 to more than 10,500 by 2010, according to the DEA. Meanwhile, the number of emergency room visits involving bupe increased tenfold over a five-year period, reaching more than 30,000 incidents in 2010, with over half of them involving nonmedical use of bupe, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

“It just kept ballooning and snowballing,” says Linda Ryan, executive director of the Samaritan House, a homeless shelter in St. Albans, Vt., who became an advocate of stricter regulation of the drug after abuse rose at her shelter over the past three years. “Actually, it’s kind of a nightmare.”

Reckitt Benckiser says it is “greatly aware” of such issues and is “concerned about misuse and/or diversion of our products” that deviate from the drug’s intended use solely as part of a regulated, broader treatment program. The company says it funds an “extensive risk management program” to monitor and intervene in instances of abuse and that it maintains “open communication” with doctors to educate them how to avoid abuse.

To be sure, rates of bupe abuse pale in comparison to abuse rates for prescription painkillers, heroin, and methadone. In 2009, emergency-room visits for methadone-related incidents hit more than 63,000, almost double the number five years earlier, and more than 60 percent were for nonmedical use, according to federal data.

But experts also say they don’t know the full scale of the bupe problem, because bupe has yet to become a drug for which medical examiners regularly test. A pilot program to better gauge the rate of bupe abuse found that 98 of 1,061 urine samples collected by Maryland parole and probation agents tested positive for bupe. Almost half of those samples tested positive for at least two other drugs, suggesting abuse.