Suboxone is the brand name for a drug called buprenorphine. It is one of a few types of drugs used to wean heroin addicts from their dependency, and it works by tricking the body into thinking that it’s still getting heroin.
This works because suboxone and heroin are both opioids, which means they belong to a class of drugs derived from a certain type of poppy. Each of these drugs (and all opioids) bind to the same receptors in the brain. This makes it so when the addict takes suboxone, it blocks the withdrawal effects of heroin, but is less harsh on the body. It also doesn’t create a high like heroin does, so it’s considered to be better.
SUBOXONE VS. METHADONE
Suboxone is very similar to methadone, which is probably the most commonly used drug for heroin withdrawals. Because methadone is very addictive, addicts must show up to a clinic or pharmacy and consume their dose while on the premises. However, suboxone is supposed to be harder to abuse so it’s permitted to be given out for the addict to take home.
Suboxone has been approved as a heroin treatment since 2002, but has many restrictions on its use. Because there is a growing black market for it, doctors have to go through rigorous procedures before prescribing it, and can only prescribe to so many patients before they’re not permitted to continue.
SUBOXONE, DRUG COURTS, AND CRIMINALS
Drug courts are special courts within the legal system designed to help non-violent drug offenders recover from their addictions and get back on track as citizens. They utilize everyone from judges and lawyers to a whole battery of social service workers. The point of drug court is to treat defendants with more particular understanding of their circumstances.
Drug courts have the jurisdiction to approve defendants going on suboxone treatment if it seems to be in the defendant’s best interests. However, they should not — the very safety of Suboxone makes it particularly dangerous in the hands of criminals, and easily subject to abuse. By the time someone has reached drug court, they’ve shown themselves willing to break the law. These people should not be supplied with a substance so easy to re-sell for profit, or to abuse for themselves.
In the last year there have been increased seizures of Suboxone by police, increased traffic with poison centers, and increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations for illicit use of Suboxone. All these signs point to its increasing popularity for illegal use. There are a few reasons why this is the case.
For starters, Suboxone is expensive, and therefore profitable to re-sell. In 2012, it raked in over $1.5 billion in just the United States, just on legal sales. It can create a high of its own (less ‘high’ than a hit of heroin, but longer lasting) and doesn’t produce withdrawal symptoms as quickly. It is also known to be a safer high than many other opiates, which is exactly why it’s appealing to street users.
Junkies will happily pay cash for illicit Suboxone if they’re having trouble securing heroin, or even if they want to withdraw from heroin but are unwilling or unable to contact a doctor for help.
Suboxone comes in a thin dissolvable film, like tooth-whitening strips. This means it’s easy to conceal and to smuggle into various locations. It’s known as “prison heroin” in some circles, where prisoners are melting it into book pages to hide it, and then eating the pages to get high. In one jail in Kentucky, a random drug screening showed that 21 out of 50 inmates tested positive for Suboxone. When inmates get out of prison, they already know it can produce a safe and reliable high. This makes it more tempting to abuse.
All of these factors add up to a clear picture: While Suboxone may be part of a reasonable treatment plan in some cases of heroin abuse, people who have already reached drug court are not the appropriate demographic.