The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy last year came out with the report Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis. Its four central recommendations focused on education, tracking and monitoring, proper medication disposal, and enforcement. This is another glaring example of our 100 years of failed drug policy. Supply reduction has not worked and will not work. If this new “crisis” is truly an epidemic, then there should be a health response to it.
If there is a bright spot in battling opiod addiction, it is that there are effective medications to treat it (methadone and buprenorphine). However, the federal government has strict regulations around the use of these medications. This is despite the fact that they are very effective in eliminating cravings for opioids.
There is one simple thing the federal government can do to stop the prescription drug epidemic: make the 2mg Suboxone film (buprenorphine and naloxone) available as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. People are buying it on the street because they can’t get into treatment. If Suboxone was an OTC, the street sales of it would dry up overnight, and people would not need to become criminals in order to get treatment. While there have been some overdoses, more people have died from water intoxication than Suboxone, and we are not looking at making water less accessible.
Maryland has been very aggressive with expanding the access of Suboxone throughout the state, and there has not been one report of someone admitted to treatment whose drug of choice was Suboxone. It is not a drug that can be used multiple times a day in order to get a high. Its pharmacology prevents this from occurring. There is no compulsive use, loss of control, and, most importantly, no cravings with Suboxone. Its risks are minimal, and the benefits will be extreme.
It’s not rocket science but it is science, the more accessible treatment is, the more likely people will be to use it.
This piece was originally published on the Open Society Foundations’ blog.